Live Your Life or Plan Your Death
When I was a kid, I had a pet cricket named Elvis.
Mama said you can’t really have a cricket for a pet. The truth is, I never saw him once, but Elvis sang to me every night, so I reckon he decided to keep me instead of the other way around.
On a normal summer, a cricket chirping in your bedroom would be downright annoying and might even make you want to jump off a bridge if you couldn’t figure out where he was, so you could step on his head. I’m sorry to say I’ve stomped on quite a few crickets in my life, plus a whole lot of other bugs I won’t name here, for fear of offending some bug-loving, revenge-taking, article-reading slight acquaintance of mine.
I tend to hang with a different kind of crowd, but I know you need to watch what you say and do sometimes.
The deep end is a whole lot closer for some people than it is for others, if you know what I mean.
The summer Elvis sang to me was a different kind of summer than most. Mama’d run that old ceiling fan, swearing the whole time she hated it. It was how we kept cool. Never bothered me. I liked the noise of it.
When the fan was on, the curtains in my room would billow inward and create a little tent on my bed. I liked to sit in it, and it was from there that I ran a library for the neighborhood kids. I had plenty of books, and I figured it might do some of them at least a little bit of good if they’d read one or two of them. It sure couldn’t do them any harm.
If I didn’t have my little library, I doubt I’d have talked to another kid all summer long.
I rarely stepped out of my room. Most of my waking moments were consumed with writing poems about killing myself and trying to build a new nose out of orthodontic wax. I hated my nose.
I was never sure when the jokes started, but they started in my own family. My nose got made fun of a lot. Mama said I had “Daddy’s nose,” and the boys would all snicker because I guess Daddy’s nose was supposed to be obnoxiously big or something. It looked like a regular nose to me, but I fell in with the jokes because I knew I was supposed to. I compared my nose to one of my brother’s and we always argued about whose was the biggest.
It’s all I could see when I looked in the mirror.
A nose without a face, just sort of floating there. The one time I experimented with acid, I looked in the mirror and my green bulbous nose was pulsating and growing. I never touched the stuff again.
My nose isn’t the reason I was preoccupied with planning my own death though. I’m not sure why I was sad. I just was. I think I was born that way. It’s taken me a lifetime and unimaginable grief to find joy. Nothing in this world makes any sense. I don’t expect it’s supposed to.
After Samuel died, I was caught up in fantasies about dying again.
Samuel was my baby boy. He died when an intrauterine blood transfusion failed due to doctor error. The grief was unbearable. I stopped writing poetry after that. Occasionally, one comes to me, but not often. Some spaces can’t be filled with words.
I remember sitting on the tractor with Johnny while he baled hay and wondering what it would be like to fall under its wheels. Other times I’d be driving down the road and press the accelerator hard, ready to ram the car into something, but then I’d ease off and live instead.
Later, after I found Mikey dead, there didn’t seem to be a reason to stay on this earth. I was just done. He was only 16 years old. A mother should never have to bury her baby. Mikey made three for me. It was too much grief for my heart to process.
For months, hiding in a coat pocket in my closet was a bottle of pills, ready for me to take myself out of this world.
Mama knew the state of mind I was in, so she went tearing through my house, emptying bottles. She didn’t realize she got rid of my depression medicine. She never found the ones in the closet.
My other kids made it impossible for me to leave, but I carried those pills around with me for a long time before I got enough courage to pour them out.
When I finally got around to cutting myself, I don’t think I had intentions to die.
I think I just needed to hurt myself.
I needed to be punished for not being perfect, for failing, for everything. It’s a twisted way of thinking, but everything I was doing at the time was a direct attack against my own life. Too much drink and too many bad choices led to a meltdown.
Recovery for me started on my knees.
I have a lot of things I wish I could say to the young girl back in that room letting Elvis sing to her — things about her nose and how precious life is. I’d tell her to enjoy every single moment and to dance and sing every day like it’s her last one on earth.
You never know when death will come around.
But I know she’s figured it all out for herself. I also know she’s alive and well, and finally made her way out of the darkness.
I don’t know exactly when it was that I started planning my life instead of my death.
My nose is the same as it’s always been — just a nose, not too bad. It’s certainly not noteworthy. I’m proud I have Daddy’s nose, but I hardly ever notice it.
If a cricket were to come sing to me in my bedroom now, I’d smile as I remembered my little friend, Elvis, from days gone by. For a minute, I’m sure I’d enjoy the song. Then I’d search him out and stomp his little head, because you can’t really have a cricket for a pet.
They’re annoying and might make you want to jump off a bridge or something, and I’ve got a life to live.
Also published here.