The last book I read all the way through was Fellowship of the Ring in October of 2016. I read it along with a married man a thousand miles away in Atlanta. We shared quotes back and forth, bleeding meaning into them. He compared me to Goldberry, an accolade I could never measure up to. But that’s the beauty and power in contrast; sometimes when you’re a wraith to your partner in the other room—despite months of couples therapy and years of mutual chaos—it takes someone thinking you’re Goldberry to realize there must be something more. That surely someone will love me more than this. Sometimes when someone calls you River Daughter, you find the power to finally leave.
A mere 16 lines long, the solo entry of 2017. The date at the top left of the page is 5/28/17. The last date in my other notebook designated for poetry and prose is 2/17/15, and it starts with “Escapism is having its way with me.” I don’t remember what had happened when I wrote the only poem of the year, but I must have tried my now-favorite matte lipstick for the first time.
I am the only one now—
brief lipstick shadow
blended over the edge
in bed at 3 a.m. wide
awake, wide with bloat.
9 p.m. lycra is the salty
second skin leaving some dive
with strange arms at waists,
brief star shine stumbles—
summer on hold.
This is what I do when I wait
for you to find me.
While I wait for your tracing
of my curved upper lip
still matte in rouge,
blended over the edge.
In the first half of 2017, I advanced rapidly in my company. I was entrusted to run client accounts in other countries. I took on the final level of editing, the level that makes a piece ready for client review. I took on and excelled at tasks far beyond my current title, and was made manager of a new hire, nurturing her professional development, program proficiency, and skills working with writers. But my title and pay never changed.
In those early months, I was coming down from a massive string of one-night stands, where seeing 5 A.M. felt like a reasonable end of the night. The truth is, I still wasn’t sleeping unless someone was beside me. I tried my best to stabilize myself enough to cradle a new relationship, as delicate and revitalizing as a small bird, in my shaking hands.
Control. It had to come from somewhere; my destructive energy had to be channeled into something so I could adopt the patience, the ethereal joy of starting something new. Unknowingly, I merged my confidence and self-esteem with my career success, and something happened that I never thought myself optimistic enough to experience: I felt invincible. I felt deliriously happy. I felt in control.
In the second half of 2017, my advancement was belittled; despite my day-to-day resembling the workload of colleagues at the next level, I was told my situation was transitional. That despite exceeding every parameter for levels even two above my own, I was not ready for advancement. I could not sever the link I’d forged between my career success and my self-worth, so it eroded. As my professional progress devolved back as though someone had turned my hourglass over again when I wasn’t looking, the self-hate I’d held at bay broke the levees.
I developed an almost compulsive need to be around life. When my ex left, I was alone as little as possible in effort to keep myself alive; any time I was invited out, I went out. I stayed late at my second job just to keep myself in the presence of others. I surrounded myself with friends, strangers, and primarily plants—something unquestioningly alive that actually needed me.
When I couldn’t control my thoughts because I was left alone, I came home with another plant. Failing that, I began a green initiative in my office. We spent a small fortune to fill every open space with massive bamboo and lemon lime plants, two thriving umbrella plants, coffee plants galore, and a series of small treats to fill the smaller corners of our peripherals.
The area of my home that reflects this most is the second altar that now sits in the bay window of my bedroom on top of a gold, 16-bottle wine table. Throughout the year, when I’ve been unable to force myself out of bed, it reminds me there is life here with me—that I am still someone, that I am still needed by something. This altar holds a hearty jade—mostly dormant in the low light of winter; an aloe plant with Florida coral and champagne corks protecting the soil bed; and a snake plant I was gifted that’s so large and lovely that I feel a quiet, heavy awareness of how much the world goes on without us when we’re not present. Pieces I want to fold into myself to become whole again.
Large hanging tendrils have overtaken my kitchen windows, greedy for the endless light, while birds nest snake plants border the television, also happily dormant. A yucca tree parallels the fig tree I wept over when all the leaves dropped as I relocated it inside after summer left us. Two weeks ago, new leaves began to grow.
In 2016, the rescue my small dog came from held an auction. I contributed about 15 pet portraits, drawing black and white, vector-style portraits of pets over magazine pages with myriad aesthetics. The lightbox I took from my first publishing job got weeks of use. In 2017, I sketched whispers of the same girl maybe twice before abandoning paper and pencil and rolling over in bed.
The cocktail of antipsychotics, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines my last psychiatrist had me on still sit in the drawer of my nightstand. First there was the Zoloft, which broke my body. We added Wellbutrin, which stabilized my body but left my mind open to catatonia. I upped the Xanax, he upped everything else. The lightheadedness and nausea from the experimental new drug Viibryd did me in, and it was just as well—I turned 26, got my own insurance, and lost my access to my entire mental health team. I let myself detox quickly.
I still felt progress, but I see now that deciding to face my disorders alone again meant succumbing to being alone with myself at full potential for damage. Months later, this has devolved into spending between 12 and 14 hours a day in bed—not writing, not creating, but still surrounded by life.
When I ended my 7-year relationship, I was afraid being cut in half and starting over would leave me with only the worst, most uncontrollable, destructive parts of myself to face alone. I wasn’t prepared for it to show me just how completely I could disappear instead.