To most, summer in June and July means margaritas on the beach, roadtrips into the setting sun, and barbecues on the long days. Summer to me, for a very long time, was tainted by two moments that would subsequently affect me for years to come. Instead of summer conjuring thoughts of splendid things, it brought back memories of my parents deaths that happened one June and one July. After their deaths, I detached myself from any real connection or emotion — always wearing a mask of either false happiness or being consumed by a boiling anger inside. I didn’t do anything to fix the broken pieces of me, which added onto to history of issues spanning from my childhood into adulthood. Things I had never accepted, acknowledged, or dealt with. When I was younger, maybe around 8 years old during one of the many times my parents split up, my mother forced me to visit at counselor at her church. After a useless board game involving questions not even remotely related to my problems, I walked out and never spoke to another person about my problems. Until I began writing about it through my travel blog.
Travel was something so foreign to my family that my only blood left, my brother, disowned me for deciding to leave the country. But when I discovered that travel was possible for anyone, not just some make believe fantasy for movies and TV, it gave me this fantastical spark. It was excitement bubbling inside instead of anger, a hope that I could actually do something with my life and change my destiny and escape my past. Escape that person I was born to be. As I noted in a previous memoir, travel doesn’t heal you if you use it as an escape from issues. It can be a catalyst for immense personal growth and change that may lead you along the right path — your own path — to healing and a spiritual renaissance. But it won’t do it for you. I thought that travel would make me this better person than I was just by doing it, that it would erase all of the negativity I held inside and the anger and hurt I hid away. I went on an amazing journey to New Zealand that showed me some of the most beautiful things which I thought could only live in imagination, and I had experiences that made me feel more alive than ever — and something followed me there as well. It was my past, the monster in my mental closet that came with me.
After the initial excitement of travel and meeting new people faded once a tour had ended, I was left on my own in an unfamiliar place feeling a lack of confidence, a gripping fear that I had no clue what I was doing, and sudden self doubt. For days I would hole up in a cafe and sit alone not knowing what to do, and all of those monsters from my past came swiftly back to conquer me in my vulnerable state thousands of miles away from anything familiar. To top it off, I had run through my budget and was filled with panic as I only had $27 left. I felt stupid that I had not budgeted correctly and I was struggling to find work. As a last ditch resort, I worked in a remote town in New Zealand packing kiwi fruit in a factory 13 hours a day. It was a cold and windowless place that felt like purgatory daily, and I had 13 hours to be haunted by my past. After making enough money for a flight, I booked my trip back home and felt as though I returned with my tail between my legs. Even though I promised myself I would only be back to save up for another trip abroad, I felt like a failure in the deepest sense possible — I had failed at the only dream that meant something to me.
Months afterward I fell into a deep depression, which I have discussed in a few of my memoirs previously. It was a period where I lost myself in alcohol and yearned for instant stimulation as I always felt the need to go out to a bar and get drunk. I lost my way to my goal and succumbed fast to those old wounds. It all came to a climax that I will be writing about in my memoir, one I meant to finish last November, but I am hoping to get it done this year. It will begin at this darkest moment in my life, one where I thought nothing was left to live for, to the point where I acknowledged my issues and began facing them to get to where I am now. Travel originally gave me a sense of purpose and something I believed in, but the journey had to first begin with myself. After I chose to focus on dealing with the issues that I had run from, I was able to slowly repair myself, and it is an everyday focus to this day. Now that I have faced these issues, travel has become that catalyst that is a part of my own personal journey. One that helps me feel alive and makes me happy, not just one I use to say makes me happy.
Here is a rough excerpt from my memoir that I will be publishing hopefully this year. Writing this book is also a struggle, since I hide no wounds and sugar coat no stories, but for the purpose of finally getting it out of myself and also giving even the smallest insight into overcoming personal demons. Writing about these issues I have, even during travels, helps me face them. It also allowed me to wipe away the anger I felt towards my parents, the world, and everything else and helped me to stop blaming others for my short-comings. Travel had helped me believe in myself and taught me to take life into my own hands and control my destiny. But it could only happen after rock bottom fall, and the journey to love myself.
NOTE: This is a graphic account and one that I even struggled to reveal. It was me at my lowest, and it took a lot of energy and time to write, so I would love your feedback if you have any and I would like to thank you for reading it. There aren’t any pictures or subtitle breaks, it is raw story-telling. This will be the beginning pages of my memoir.
It tasted a bit like sucking on a handful of nickels; the flavor of metal simultaneously tantalizing as it was rancid. My mouth cocked open with a big “Ahhh” like a doctor forces you to do when examining your throat — but instead of a rubber finger prodding about in there to my disgust, it was smooth steel resting on my tongue. The putrid smell of sulfur crept into my nostrils after I became tired of trying to breathe out of my full mouth like Darth Vader, but breathing out of my nose was worse. I hate loud nose breathing. I was sick with some sort of head cold that gave one nostril an annoying whistle, and a snot bubble threatened to peekaboo. The muscles in my jaw were on fire, so I rested my teeth onto the rigid top metal causing them to dance on the cold steel, clattering so loud I thought it might wake everyone in the silent house. Time trailed off into oblivion, but at some point I pulled the revolver out of my mouth and stared at it for what seemed like an eternity. Grotesque caricatures of myself stared back, reflected along the lines of the wicked thing — the long-faced ghouls gaping at me along the trim of the wood-plated handle, tracing up to the warped faces gawking from the dips in the cylinder, to the mad and maniacal eyes mocking me between glints of pale light along the barrel. The faces of me, taunting me.
“Motherfucker” I grumbled at it like the damn thing could understand me. Jaw tense. Teeth grinding. Nose flared to the point of pruning my forehead. My face tingled with needles and I wanted to scream so violently at it. But instead it loosely cuddled in my clammy palm with my own drool slick on the barrel and dripping, unresponsive to my scowl and scorn like a puppy who had just shit on the floor without knowing. I opened and closed my jaw and wiggled it around for a bit. Why couldn’t it decide for me? The trigger squeaked under the slightest tease of my finger and a million thoughts raced through my head. Would it wake the neighbors? Of course it would idiot. What if the bullet flew into someone else’s house and killed them? Not likely at the witching hour, but always a possibility of ricocheting into some baby’s teddy bear protected crib. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if that happened, then again, I wouldn’t be around to feel bad about it either. But I felt bad thinking about a newborn’s demise in a flurry of cotton and fake fur preemptively. Would I have an open or closed casket, and what would I be dressed in? These days I couldn’t even muster the care to shower often so why did I care about that? Would people come to the funeral? Would I be remembered? Would my brother cry for me, or berate my cold body for being immature? Would it hurt? Could it hurt less than the pain I already feel?
I set down then weighty slobbered steel gently on the desk and let my face fall into my arms. Mouth clenched and eyes squeezed to near tears. I sighed out of my whistling nose. Failure. I can’t do a good job living but I even fail at dying. Well, at least at doing it myself. The lamplight in the room was kaleidoscopic red dots everywhere when I lifted my head and looked to where the fictional gun had been set down in my suicidal scenario — in it’s place a burst pen. Under my arms, now slightly crinkled, a piece of paper that read “Dear”. Who the fuck starts a suicide letter with “Dear”? Who was I writing to and why did it matter? I pulled my laptop close and watched the letters of my “Easy ways to kill yourself” search fall away to the delete button. The search was no help either, usually Google force feeding me results about hotlines or reasons to live. Things I didn’t want right now. I wanted an easy way out of this cage, and I couldn’t stand the crippling feeling inside anymore. But it wouldn’t be easy would it? Ever. Because whether I liked it or not, killing myself would affect something, whether it be my family and friend’s lives, a room not needing my brain Rorschach splatter on the wall, someone not needing the financial burden of my body, and hell not needing a sad excuse for a soul.
Did my mother think of all of this when she killed herself? Did she wonder what the world would be without her? And I don’t mean the world as a whole, since we were a family of no accomplishments that garnered recognition or remembrance, but the small world that incased our broken little family. Did she ever consider the fiery tears and the throwing up and the sleepless nights she would cause me? Did she consider how people talking about her inevitable suicide in front of a teen boy tore at my soul? Or others making remarks about her drug addictions as the obvious cause — like it made it okay for her to break her son’s heart and her promise. Did she remember that promise?
Once upon a not-so-special weekend she made a promise. In her borrowed and dated green hatchback, she promised a young boy when dropping him off at a friend’s house, “Bear, I love you. And I would never do anything to hurt you. I couldn’t imagine being without you”. It was random, but I responded, “I love you too mom”. And that was the last time I saw her. Did that thought pass through her head when she hung herself, or was she in some otherworldly state of mind transcending the boundaries of care so that she could pull it off? The police report had read that she was near overdose on a cocktail of painkillers when she broke her promise. Maybe that was the key. Maybe I needed drugs to give that slobbery steel a real go. Pop a few pills, then BANG! Donzo. Except, I had never done drugs before because my mother had been a druggy who killed herself and broke my heart. And I swore I’d never do drugs because of her. But I never promised not to kill myself, and I guess that was a trait I inherited.
My legs ached when I had finally stood up after sitting in the chair for five hours trying to figure out my worldly escape plan. Nightly I would creep around the house after everyone was asleep, for no reason at all except to walk while I thought. Sometimes I would stand in the kitchen and listen to the buzz of the refrigerator to drown out my thoughts. Other times I would lay in bed thinking about going out to a bar, picking up a girl, and fucking her — only to decide I didn’t have the interest or energy or confidence to. If an old fling would message me with some saucy midnight meet up request, I’d entertain the idea of a booty call to make the pain go away, then decide I was too lazy. I couldn’t even arouse enough interest to jerk off, instead contempt to flip through dating sites with half a thought to talk to someone else. When the time would come to hold a conversation or meet them, I’d make up an excuse like, “I have work” or “I’m slammed busy this week”. And busy was eating beef with broccoli Chinese delivery by myself in my bed watching one Netflix movie after the next and shoving the rubbish under the bed when I was done. Besides wearing the same clothes for a week on end and barely showering, my room was a treasure trove of rotting delivery Chinese like the physical representation of my emotions — hoarding and hiding it while it festered. I didn’t even notice the smell. I didn’t notice much those days.
I wondered if anyone could hear the floorboards creak at night as I wandered the house, or saw the low glow of the bathroom light beneath the door. I always ended up there in the bathroom for some reason. Always in the bathroom in the silence of night staring at myself in the mirror. What does one see when they look in the mirror? What do you see? Is it a smile? Is it wrinkles of stress? Is it age or youth? Is it bleeding mascara, or hurt, or emptiness? Is it bright eyes beaming happiness and vibrancy and life? Is it just refracted light sending some physical representation of ourselves to the brain? Or is it the clearest glimpse of ones mind, body, and soul — the truth of what lies in the heart and what they feel about the world or ourselves? I would stare in the mirror past my swollen cauliflowered ear and bandaged-wrapped head, past the purple hollows holding in my eyes, past the chapped lips and mangy beard. Pale blue eyes stared back at me, examining me, judging me. My reflection looked outward at me, at something broken, something mangled, something unrecognizable. It was a pieced together tattered portrait of a person. A failure. A reflection of myself that disgusted me to look at, and my reflected self I suspected couldn’t stand the sad sight either.
The first snow had fallen around me, stark and cold and white. Out the window I peered at the blackness — nothing stirred in the dark just as nothing stirred in the void that was my being. No warmth, no feeling, no thought except one. And though my face was pressed close to the glass so that my reflected ghost couldn’t mock my misery in the cold November night, no breath crawled across the window pane. Was I still breathing? Was I now some non-existent reverse reflection — a phantom? Had my soul already abandoned me? No breath creeping across the glass, no sign of life. I stepped away from the November blackness with not a flake of snow on the ground, though my four walled prison was flurried in white. As I stepped back my heel crunched in the snow around the room, and I felt it’s cold burning, it’s wrinkles, it’s sharp sting on my bare feet. So I still did feel. Or I just recognized that ever present sensation. Maybe all I was capable of feeling was the sensation of pain. And all I wanted was that to end.
The snow around the room were the crumpled up casualties of failed suicide notes that I had penned all night, some with the pathetic “Dear” or others savage scribbles which had caused my pen now in the pretend gun’s resting place to burst. Under the desk lamp with the red shade my ink stained hands looked blotched with a purple and crimson. But I couldn’t do it, for I was a failure at that as well.
Then again, I had something that would force my hand, and my decision.
Life or death would not be decided by me, but by the outcome of my approaching court case. If found guilty, and if I went to jail, it would be the end of me. When you grow up with a father telling you that you won’t ever amount to anything special, and that chasing any form of crazy or radical career is not in your cards besides one of a labor job, you embody that. Up until that point in my life I had always rebelled at that idea of being nothing but a standardization or blue collar statistic — though I still held that deeply engrained doubt inside myself. I’d break free and be something. Yet I still believed deep down I’d never amount to anything. Even with that seed planted long ago when I was a wee boy in my earliest memory, I was always able to fight that doubt back with a stubborn prove-them-wrong attitude. A naive child in a bright orange and green pumpkin onesie pretending to be the hero of some great story and slaying monsters with my blade made of a straight stick. I’d be something worthy I believed, at least when I was pretending. When it came to reality, I had no concrete passion or conviction to do so at age 23 as everything my father told me I couldn’t be became the truth. The day had come my previous year’s birthday where I had found something that filled my being with purpose — I had escaped the clutches of normality in the U.S. and traveled to New Zealand. It was my dream to travel the world, since nobody in my family had left the United States and I was doing something wild and fulfilling and exhilarating. And I failed at it, having to return broke in more ways than my bank account. I failed myself. I failed that false dream. After that, there is no purpose. I didn’t want to die, but I couldn’t find any reason to live.
Long ago my soul had broken into a thousand pieces. What does one see when your soul is just a cracked reflection after piece by piece has fallen away from the mirror? There is nothing left except a blank space in a frame. It wasn’t just those heavy summers under the cicadas song — their lingering nightmare screams that sound like never-ending shattering mirrors, the soundtrack of nostalgic fragments of my parents deaths that left me in pieces. It was something much deeper and older. Cigarette burns of my past. My childhood up until this point that plays in flickering memories and keeps me awake at night. That keeps me gnawing off my nails until the kitch-kitch-kitch noise in the dark leaves my fingers bloodied. That had me under the red hue of the lamp stirring dark thoughts with a bleeding pen. The monster was in that darkness, a creeping entity of pain I had hidden from all of my life that followed me through the fires. Always there. Where was the brave boy with the wooden sword? Where had my innocence been lost? There was a monster in the dark, the monster of me, and I needed to find that brave boy once more or be killed by it.
Sometimes we feel as though life has given up on us. Sometimes life gives us a second chance. Most of the time it doesn’t. You have to be the one to decide to live. And that choice of mine was coming.