i’ve spent quite awhile trying to put this experience into words. in many ways, it is ineffable. a post-lingual phenomenon. but I’m going to try anyway. though failure is a very real possibility, there is such beauty in the effort.
“hypothesis: all the worlds that almost were matter just as much as the world we’re in.
corollary: these hidden worlds cause us great pain.”
if you haven’t watched the Netflix limited series maniac, stop fucking reading this and go watch it right now. and if you don’t have Netflix… i would gladly part ways with my username and password for the sake of this show. because it is absolutely pertinent that you watch this limited series, not only because it is quite possibly the best project i’ve seen all year, but because it is the vehicle through which i intend to write about this really fucking difficult topic.
the first time i felt wholly conscious of my desire to die was the semester following my sexual assault. that distinct event, and all the particularly distinct events that followed, is a something i don’t really have the language for yet. that semester was the first time i felt a heaviness that kept me shackled to my bed, for days, for weeks at a time. it was the first time i ever wanted to shut out every single person i once held close. it was the first time i ever truly wanted to stop living.
but that is not the kind of depression i want to write about. the one tied to a specific event, a specific space and time. when i revisit that moment in my life, even now, i can almost hold the origin of that feeling in the palm of my hand. i can see the thread that connects the me of then to the defining event that caused that depressive episode.
in many ways, that singular cause has diminished. i am in my fourth year at emory university. if i never wanted to return to the place i grew up, i never have to again. if i never want to speak to my mother again, i never have to. as i walk through time, further and further away from that which left me without agency, power, and the ability to help myself in many ways, i have less of a reason to seek death as a comfort. and yet, i seek it now, in the aftermath, more than i ever did during the moment of impact.
i want to write about the perplexity of this. the “why” of this. there is a cost to the gift of second sight that i don’t think du bois was able to capture in the souls of black folk. probably because he was envisioning the veil and double consciousness as something that was created and sustained between black men and white people. apparently, black women don’t really exist in the world that du bois was critical of, and the world he was fashioning for the future. which is a shame. if only because if he’d considered black women, the gift of second sight would have been far more enriching than it is now.
i see things that do not exist. that is the work of an alchemist. to create something where nothing exists. i wade through scores of hidden worlds every single day, while traversing the boundaries of the world that currently does exist. i see the past in many hidden worlds. i see the gridlines, the landmarks, the whispers of lives that perished because even then, nobody paid any attention to the words of the alchemists. i see futures as many hidden worlds. i see worlds that are so much better than the one we live in. i see worlds that are worse. i see futures that make today worth it and i see futures where we all die and this was all for nothing.
i am walking around every day with the gift of sight. and it makes me want to die. i am a researcher. a storyteller of sorts. i can shape shift through time and space and i can be what is required. but to know so much, to carry it all within you, and to be ignored, dismissed, labeled as ineffable… there is a silent trauma in that. a doubly penetrative trauma. on the one hand, the distance between hidden worlds and the one we find ourselves in is maddening. and knowing it does nothing to close the gap. on the other hand, alchemists have always been dismissed. they have always been ignored. they have always gone unheard. i see that hidden world too. what has become of those who saw. what is becoming of those who saw. what they are leaving behind in hopes that we fucking get it and enter into something new.
maybe i’m not strong enough for this kind of gift. maybe that’s why i wake up every day and have to make a conscious decision to remain alive, and to walk on the surface of an earth that is just… all wrong. maybe that’s why i can’t sleep for more than two hours without feeling like i’m falling into an abyss.
when one is existentially depressed, when the very function of one’s pain is the very world in which they live, what do you say to that person? what do you tell them? what kinds of platitudes alleviate that kind of trauma? in my experience, none exist. it’s not enough to tell that person to be positive. because that doesn’t serve them. it’s not enough to tell that person it’ll all work out. because they have access to a million hidden worlds that beg to differ. it’s not enough to tell that person that it’s all in their head. because we’ve been telling alchemists that for centuries and yet, their eyes and their mouths have told us of things we never could have imagined and yet live within right now. we are living in somebody’s imagination.
what makes me choose life every single moment of the day is my inability to be cruel. i think that it would be cruel to make my same be the one to find me. because she would probably be the one. i think that it would be cruel to kill myself while my father is thousands of miles away. i think that it would be cruel to kill myself without explaining to my sister what it means to be an alchemist. i think that it would be cruel to leave people hopeless, to remove another set of eyes that can see the hidden worlds that exist in addition to the one we’re within right now. my very love and dedication to others is the very reason i choose to live with an inexplicable pain, one that paralyzes me more days than not.
i walk around every day with this. conscious of it. and some days, the effort is herculean. and like today, i need to stay in my bed and be aware of myself. other days, like yesterday, when i can describe a small piece of the hidden world that i see to other people in the form of research, i feel buoyed, carried, by the lives, whispers, traces of all the alchemists who exist now and who existed then.
so. i’m trying. i consider suicide every day. every single day. and i decide against it every single day. for now, that is about as certain as i can get about whether i will ever actually do it. but we are all dying. the bus is always coming. i just hope that i’m heard before my number gets called.
the walking reminder of the worlds we could be living in