a lack of ends, outliving death, and a machine that can breathe
I’m starting a lot of things I never finish these days. Poems. Drawings. Books. Substack drafts are a neverending trail down the side of my screen— I’m sure that I have over 20 at this point, tiny details of a life that I’m barely living. If you dig through them all, these little diary entries, you could probably track the path of all the wildfires in the West Coast.
Some of them are only a few sentences long. They tell me I create out of love but it doesn’t feel like that. I don’t feel lovely. Or in love. Some of them are even shorter, the ones from late at night I don’t remember writing. i cant thinkor feel i really cant, one reads. I deleted it almost immediately, even though I hadn’t saved it by putting it into another draft. I couldn’t stand seeing those words all alone on a page, a cry for help in a sea of electronic navy blue.
Most of them are cries for help in plain words, short sentences, blunt, comma-less. I really can’t do distractions anymore. They just don’t work for me. It just feels empty. I get nothing from everything. I could have fucked him but I’m not that kind of person anymore I think. I don’t want to be that kind of person anymore. I don’t want to be bad anymore.
The simple way to explain this is that I’m spitting off the edge of the world. The more complex way to say this is that I regularly have completely blank spots in my memory, my hands are almost constantly shaking no matter what I do, my cravings for raw meat are back as well as the ever-present nausea, and I can only get 2 hours of sleep most nights. On top of that, most people I talk to— meaning my parents, because I hardly ever leave the house— can barely understand me. My voice is rougher than it’s ever been and my thoughts are scattered to the wind, coming out in fragments that sound like I’m pulling words to say out of a hat. Someone told me I seem rational and intelligent, and I had to resist the urge to say that it’s only because they haven’t heard me talk.
Draft titled “cloth mother”, dated October 7th, 2022.
Mama, I am lying in bed and when I put my arms up my skin is saran wrap across my ribs. I cannot gain weight even when I try. Mama, I am a sadder Saint in this bed and I watch the sun burn a path across the gray sky. It glows through the smoke like a piece of brass. Mama, some days I cannot feel the arrows even though I know that they’re there. Other days the memory of being hit echoes through my ribs every time I breathe in. Martyrdom sits on me like an ill-fitting suit.
Mama, the bed doesn’t seem to leave me and they all come to put their hands on my body but nothing ever works. And the brass falls into the ocean with a flash of pink and no remorse. Mama, the moon sits over me like a penny. It blesses my eyelids and pays my way to a better place. I need a transitory world to hide in. Send me an angel. Mama, they’re taking me now— they’re taking me out the window. Kisses on the forehead. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go.
I’ve reached a point of no return, I think. My dad had to try to carry me in for a blood draw, which is no easy feat especially if I don’t want to do something, and I’ve had a lifelong fear of needles.
I bit him in the neck hard enough to break the skin. We rescheduled.
I can’t write, most of the time. There’s a certain level of stability I have to have to do anything that involves putting my thoughts down because I have a tendency to spiral, so it’s small, harmless things that get recorded. The level of smoke in the air. How I prepare a cup of tea. Lists of anything I can think of— Poems to send to my best friend, things considered dry, all the CDs I own in alphabetical order, things I need to buy and the stores I need to buy them from.
I wrote down a list of all the things I should do to get myself off of this precipice. Drink more water, go outside, take more of that natural sleep medication, eat consistently if I can’t eat large amounts at once, shower, brush my fucking teeth.
I keep forgetting to brush my teeth.
Everybody has an idea on what’s wrong with me, but it doesn’t matter all that much, does it? I’ve tried it all, anything even remotely considered a cure. I’ve tried self-love and medication and loving the little things and I’ve tried getting dressed and writing in colored pens and eating delicious food. I’ve tried caffeine and sunbathing and faith and addiction and getting sober. I’ve tried it. But the drugs don’t work because I won’t let anybody know what’s wrong with me. And the angels can’t help me because they’ve all gone away.
So here I am on the edge. I think that everyone my age feels like they’re on an edge— the red strings of fate fade into the dark of an uncertain future like an unfinished tapestry. More than ever, the ability to choose between continuing on and creating an ending stands out. Maybe I’m afraid of endings, and that’s why I can’t finish anything these days.
I’d like to say that I don’t want to die. I think that’s important, that I don’t want to die. Something has gone wrong inside me, I know. Healthy people’s skin doesn’t fall off. Healthy people are well rested and sure and can complete assignments. I am not a healthy person, but I can’t help it— I want more life. I don’t want to die, I just don’t want to live like this anymore.
Death is performance to me, nothing but a place to be at a time. Something to move on from. My record for being completely still without sleeping, doing nothing at all except for blinking, is 9 hours. I can freeze for an entire night. Still as a corpse until the sun comes up, wide awake. No twitching. No movement at all. I’m practicing, but the show’s not happening for some years yet. I’m not going to let it happen. Even if I can’t feel in this life, I refuse to give myself the satisfaction of my death.
Draft titled “observation deck”, dated September 30th, 2022.
I’m well aware that my approach to life is deeply clinical— there is no emotion I’ve experienced that I haven’t poked, stretched, and written down my observations about. If I was to poke this happiness I feel right now, it would end up not being happiness but some version of gratification. I’m really just at ease, not happy. I haven’t been happy for years. Do people usually feel nothing all the time? Is this machine broken or something?
It’s not like I’m deeply sad all the time or something. Life is just like watching a movie to me, or playing a video game. I eat, I sleep, I drown in a river and hit respawn and go back to the last checkpoint. Maybe this perspective would be different if I hadn’t died so many times. Maybe I’d feel more real on a regular basis if viewed death as a period instead of a semicolon.
So. Life is a real thing that I can’t just hit an escape button from. This is not a video game. I can’t back out. I am in this forever and ever. I am not a character, I am not a martyr. The machine isn’t on, because I am not a machine. I know it, I know it, I know it. I cannot subsist on a nothing life for all the whole time I’m here— I’m going to have to get money and a place to live and friends and a job. I cannot stay in the womb of my room forever and I cannot wake up when I’m 50 and the choices have already been made for me.
I just want to wake up a good and settled person.
There’s really only so much I can do to convince myself of something. That I’m trying to figure myself out and it won’t be like this forever. That I’m just sick. That I can be cured. That I have the capacity for good, to be a good person. To be better. I have no troubles with belief— I can believe in almost anything. I don’t get bug bites purely because I don’t want to, I can ignore my nicotine dependence from secondhand smoke, I tell myself I can hold my breath for two minutes and find out I can. They’re lies when they leave my lips, but they’re true by the time they happen. Strong-minded, my father calls me.
All that strength, and I still can’t make myself believe something that isn’t physical. I can’t get myself to believe in morality. I can sympathize with anyone and see the truth in people’s actions, but I can’t convince myself that I want to try to help others, that I’m anything more than just a neutral force. Nothing can exist sanely under conditions of complete reality, can they? I don’t feel very sane, most of the time. Like I’m always one thing gone wrong from snapping.
There’s only one thing in the entire world that I believe is good, and that’s my best friend. Because she tries to be. Because she believes that there are good things in this world, and even though she doesn’t believe she’ll ever be one, she still wants to be. She wants and wants and wants. I can’t feel hunger without guilt. All desire has inherent suffering, and I’m so tired of suffering. I’m so tired.
Draft titled “wildfire season”, dated October 9th, 2022.
I hurt these days, and it only gets to me because it’s not just physical anymore— a deep sort of pulse has taken root in my soul, like the heartbeat of something not fully formed yet. A promise.
Maybe I just want something. I’m not good with desire. I’m not good with anything that requires me to feel something, really. It’s a skill that makes me great at eulogies, which I suppose is good, considering how many funerals I go to. And I’m good at acting like I feel something, but it’s just frosting on a concrete wall. Writing practice. This is what this should feel like, this is what that looks like, this is what this sounds like.
In the bathroom mirror while practicing crying, I noticed my face and hair have changed. It’s a strange feeling to notice something like this, mostly because I don’t have a very good grasp of what I look like. You could show me a picture of myself and I’d ask who it is. My body has always just been flesh, a temporal echo. A roadmap of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I do not look at myself and think ugly or pretty or something else, I look at myself and think is this machine on?
And then: do I want this machine to be on?
I feel like Cassandra. Like I can see a truth that nobody else will believe. The newest Lady Macbeth, rubbing my hands up and down my dress like I can wipe off something that isn’t really there, even though I can feel it. Another woman in white. Another subterranean homesick alien. How many others before me have felt like this? My parents? My great-grandparents? Did anyone notice? Did anyone care?
These red threads of fate entrap us all. Destiny’s tentacles, dragging us into a place we can never return from. The dark. The deep. But they can’t even see that, how it overcomes us like a decomposer, how it eats us. Go forth and get swallowed. You’re in the belly of the beast, now, like the endless corridors of a house, going on and on and on until I end up outside. Life is nothing but a haunted house, and I’m the monster inside it. I exist as a warning. A lighthouse. Look out.
I don’t know what’s more terrifying, that we have to keep walking through this house or the potential to get stuck in a room. There are those of us who exist in these rooms, a time loop, almost. We’re forced to return to rooms, sometimes. My maternal grandmother returns to March 27th, 1964 every holiday. I wonder what it must feel like, to her— to sit in that room and to watch all those people die, over and over again. She can’t help it. She can’t escape. And even now, passed down through two generations of youngest daughters, I still fear earthquakes.
Draft titled “tree roots”, dated October 2nd, 2022.
Hazel. Her name is Hazel, but she likes to be called Zee because of a rhyme some boys would tease her with when she was a girl. Hazel the witch fell in a ditch, found a penny and thought she was rich. She was born 57 years and a day before me— that’s a thing, too. I was born on January 5th at 12:01 a.m., and her birthday is the 4th. The running joke is that I wouldn’t be born until I could have my own day because I didn’t want to share. I guess it’s funny because I’ve never had much that could be considered solely mine.
I hate thinking of her as Zee. It sounds cheap and bold, like vulgar perfume and leopard-print underwear. Hazel is softer around the edges, the color of sage, gentler. It’s not like those boys are going to come back to tease her. They’re long dead now— been in the ground since the 60s.
An earthquake hit the town of Valdez, Alaska, in 1964. That’s where my grandmother lived when she was 16. And the thing about earthquakes for costal towns is that the earthquake isn’t the scariest part— the ocean is. And the ocean came up and swallowed all the fishing boats, the docks, and part of downtown. Entire buildings disappeared. Entire people disappeared. From her mother’s house up on the hill, she watched her basketball coach walk down to the docks with his two sons, ages 4 and 7, and she watched them get eaten.
The ocean took justice for her by swallowing up the teasing boys, as well. And when they found their bodies downtown, dead and bloated and covered in rubble, how strange and horrible that must have felt for her. To see them killed at that cost. And now she refuses to be called Hazel by anyone at all.
I think I just hit the perfect intersection of families who the ocean loves the taste of. My paternal great-great-grandfather, Manuel, was a soldier in World War II. Well, first he was in the Army, and then when he got honorably discharged after he died, he joined the Navy. Then he drowned and died again, and joined the Air Force. He got gunned down soon after, and drowned again. When they pulled him out of the ocean and tried to revive him, he came back again. Three times dead, twice by the ocean. It must be genetic, all these deaths.
She’s stuck in the rooms, but I’ve seen the outside. I know what it looks like. And it is my burden to carry this truth with me, no matter how many people do or don’t believe me. None of that matters, though— death doesn’t matter. What we believe doesn’t matter. The world is, and there is no belief that can change or or soften that in any way. It is, and so are we. It doesn’t matter if all of this is actually a dream, or if we’re just a thought in a god’s head, or if all a simulation, because we are in this. And if Gilgamesh wakes up and we all disappear into nothingness, we’ll still have existed. Ne c’est pas un life, it’s a thought of a life, but it’s still real. It exists. An abstract noun. And it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be. If I’m a ghost, than so be it, but I have unfinished business.
And that means I’m going to have to keep going. That means I’m going to have to get up.
Get up, coward.