Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, thoughts of suicide flashed across my brain. I was doing so good, I swear. Don’t be mad. Please don’t be mad.
The thoughts were so overwhelming, it took me over two hours to put in four bolts to attach the handle to a Fiskars 18” reel mower. The mower was fraught with bad thoughts. Every time I picked up a bolt, I shuddered. I felt broken, not normal, stupid. I didn’t matter, and the mower knew it.
Things started falling apart over the weekend. I had traveled back to Brooklyn to attend a friend’s birthday BBQ. I was so looking forward to this visit because I finally had good news to share with my friends: I have been off my psych meds for long enough that I was seeing concrete results.
(This is not a piece about the specifics of going off the meds.)
People were happy to see me. They complimented me on the weight loss that comes with not being warehoused on drugs that mess with your metabolism. I actually had concrete things to tell them about concrete things I was doing —storytelling, and eventful road trip down south, battling an owl in my living room. Real everyday things that people do.
A few times over the weekend I found myself tearing up as I told folks that, for the first time since maybe they’ve known me, I didn’t anticipate my life ending in suicide. It felt so good to hug people and not feel like I was going through the motions of a hug because that’s what I heard real people with real feelings do. These were no simulacra of hugs; these were actual physical manifestations of joy. I had forgotten what that was like.
So far, so good. Exhausting, but good. I have been dealing with some hip issues for a year now, and standing around chatting amiably, shifting from one foot to the other is just the worst. So I sought a perch.
At large gatherings I like to perch, to position myself somewhere I can observe the action. Watching people move about in a Brownian motion is very calming and centering for me. Along one side of the living room in the party apartment, the host had moved one of the barstools from the kitchen to get it out of the way of the all the people instinctually gravitating towards the kitchen.
I hate barstools. I feel like a bear on a unicycle in a second-rate provincial Russian circus. I imagine folks are staring at me and marveling how such a fat ass could balance on such a tall, tiny thing. Give him a pink tutu and a stupid hat.
Speaking of stupid hats, no sooner had I gotten comfortable, than a guy in a completely ridiculous hat sidled up next to me. I cannot over-emphasize what a stupid hat this was. It seemed like he couldn’t decide whether he was emulating Walter White or Blossom.
“You need to be careful,” he drunk-shouted at me over the music.
“Huh?” I tried to be polite, but I have very little tolerance for obvious drunks anymore. It’s just so… basic. Also, I had no fucking clue who this dude was. Maybe I’d seen him around before, but I couldn’t tell you where. Much less a name. He is not a Facebook friend because, for the most part, I’m only Facebook friends with people I’ve actually spoken with and who didn’t annoy me. Also, the hat, which still was so, so stupid, would be a dealbreaker. God, that hat is seared into my memory.
“The light switch. There’s a light switch.” He physically tugged me off my perch to show me a rocker switch that was in no danger of being activated by me, as I was perching on the front edge of the stool.
“Okay,” I said and tried to get back on the stool, hoping he would leave me to my happy perching.
But he grabbed me —fucking grabbed me —leaned in and slurred, “Now I get to kiss you.” I pulled away, which is a universally understood gesture meaning NO, NOT EVEN IF YOU WEREN’T WEARING SUCH A STUPID HAT.
(Also… “get to” like I’m a maiden in a coastal village he’s just plundered from his longboat. Wearing a stupid hat.)
Then he grabbed me again, chuckling. This asshole in a stupid hat thought he was being cute. He actually thought overriding another human being’s denial of consent was just something people do when they’re being adorable.
I could feel the blood draining, but thankfully I had the wherewithal and self-worth to pull away.
Again… I HAD THE WHEREWITHAL AND SELF-WORTH TO PULL AWAY… This cannot be over-emphasized.
A few years ago, I had moved back to Columbus because I felt my world shrinking so much that I was only months away from offing myself. (That dead body you found in Prospect Park next to a poisoned Smoothie with the note inside a Ziploc bag pinned to his chest? That would’ve been me.) I felt like I had no agency. I didn’t matter.
Against that backdrop, I was sexually assaulted. He, too, thought he was being cute. I can still see his stupid smirk, stupider than any stupid hat, as he pulled me back in. I remember saying “No” quite emphatically, but he said that was “adorable,” and yanked me towards him.
I shut down. Sometimes disassociation is your only defense. Please God, just let him finish so this hell can be over, and I can shove this down into the brain-basement where all the other times guys thought disassociation was cute molder and rot. I remember thinking, “How can somebody be so turned on by what’s got to come across as really, really unenthusiastic consent at best?”
I mattered more as convenient friction to him than as a person.
(UNENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT IS NOT CONSENT; IT IS SELF-PROTECTION.)
I vowed then that I would not be forced into disassociation again. I needed to get back my emotions so I could fight off assholes like that in the future. So, working with my therapist and my medical doctor, I went off the meds.
It’s taken a long time, but I now feel like I have the full range of emotions necessary to protect myself. I see a future. I don’t know what that future is, but I know it’s there.
Still, it’s a fragile future. Just at the beginning of the year, I’ve started replying to people on location-based dating services. I even went to get drinks with one. He ghosted me afterwards, but I still consider it a little victory. I’ve even chosen not to view the fact that I was attacked by an owl in my living room when I returned home from the date as a portend that I should remain alone. It’s just a sign the chimney needs to be fixed. Right?
As I rushed away from the stupid, rapey hat to the sanctuary of the bathroom and my tiny bladder, I bumped into a friend, a good friend, someone to whom I had given a hearty hug full of real emotion just hours earlier. As I brushed past I said, “I gotta go to the bathroom. Some dude just bad-touched me.”
“Who?” the friend asked. I pointed to the stupid hat, which now loomed above the party like a Macy’s Parade balloon of a cartoon character no one’s liked since ribbon candy was a thing. “Oh, him. Heh.”
That was my friend’s reaction. I felt gross. I felt small. I felt like Stupid Hat’s need to be cute overrode my need to be safe at a party full of friends. I had obviously done something wrong. How dare I not find grabbing me fun! People are drunk, go along with it, you pussy!
I spent about five minutes in the bathroom, doing some basic tai chi breathing moves. It helped. I felt I could return to the party. After all, the interaction with my attacker —and he was an attacker —lasted maybe forty-five seconds. “You’re overreacting Chris,” I could hear my mom say. “Just giving them the reaction they want.”
“Oh, him. Heh.”
I tried to enjoy the party, but all I was doing was watching out for the stupid hat. I was scared to remain there. So, I pulled an Irish Farewell and left. Clearly, it was more important for Stupid Hat to have fun than me. I told myself that I had spent enough time. All this bargaining to assure myself I was leaving on my own accord.
But I had been driven away by a hat.
I tried to pat myself on my back for getting away from my attacker. The old me would’ve just let him do whatever he wanted because that’s how you make friends, right? People don’t like you, Chris, because you don’t let them grope you. I stood up for myself, didn’t I?
But then why did my friend chuckle when I told him what happened? Clearly, I reacted incorrectly to being grabbed and groped.
It would be different next time.
Next time came sooner than later this past Tuesday as I left Lowe’s up by the Polaris Mall after purchasing the aforementioned lawnmower. I don’t usually like spending time up by that mall because the people can be kind of a classist, privilege-y bunch. You have to cut through the judgment with a machete.
As I entered the clearly marked (stop signs and hatch-marks) crosswalk in front of the store, one of those tiny, cheap-looking Range Rovers that serve no purpose other than to advertise how little you care about driving flew past me and a handyman loading a truck without stopping or slowing down.
It was the automotive equivalent of the stupid hat.
So, I yelled, “I’m walking here!” (I had just spent a weekend in NYC after all) and offered up the universally agreed upon gesture that says, “Hey, I wish you would follow the rules of the road.”
The Range Rover, nearly a hundred feet away at this point, slammed on its brakes.
“Oh joy!” I thought, but I continued pushing the cart with the mower towards my ancient Volvo station wagon. Just as I opened the lift-gate, the Range Rover screeched to a halt, less than three feet away from me.
A woman in an “I’d like to speak to your manager” fake blond bob stuck her phone at me. “Does it make you feel big to flip me off IN FRONT OF MY CHILD?!?” she yelled. The child looked appropriately horrified.
I felt so trapped. She had hunted me down and was sticking a camera in my face. I couldn’t escape. I could try to de-escalate the situation. But she didn’t deserve de-escalation. She was road raging over me not liking being almost run down by her. What the fuck kind of privilege is that? How dare I, a mere plebeian in her world, question her right to drive here stupid hat car anywhere she wanted.
So I fucking snapped.
“You blew through a crosswalk with stop signs with your child in your car. And now you’re following me. Shut the fuck up you privileged twat!”
I felt like a floating ball of rage. It must’ve been a show because she recoiled and held the phone up like she was warding off a vampire. She sped off, continuing to hold the phone. I assume this was to capture for posterity the moment I turned on my super-human T-1000 speed in pursuit.
Others in the Lowe’s lot averted their eyes from me.
But at least they weren’t laughing?
I could feel shame welling up in my gut. “You’re only giving them the reaction they want.”
You’re overreacting. Therefore, your feelings no longer matter.
I cried the whole way home. I remember nothing of the drive but that. And it was rush hour on one of the busiest stretches of interstate in Columbus.
I cried most of yesterday as I assembled the mower. At one point, a pair of pliers slipped in my hand, pinching my palm. I deserved that pain. At least the pain I felt was real. Not the fake pain of overreaction. I mulled over the ‘along the sidewalk; not across the street’ possibilities of the old carpet knife I used to open the lawnmower box. I cried some more. I went to go work out and use the steam room, but I forgot to put my gym bag in the car. I cried at my inability to do anything right. No wonder I don’t deserve to be touched on my terms.
What are my choices now?
I can’t go back to disassociating anymore. The chemistry won’t allow it, and I won’t allow the psych meds back in me. I like having feelings.
But feelings suck. I’ve been robbed of them for so long, full-time since 1991, that it’s like learning to walk again. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a taped segment from a telethon where they show the plucky kid from St. Jude’s taking tentative steps after getting a cancerous mass removed from the base of their spine. Except when I stumble with my newly regained emotions, I feel like I’m being punished. Like they expect me to run a triathlon and are annoyed when I can’t.
I know this piece has been somewhat scattershot, full of clunky metaphors and poorly edited. But, know what, so is my brain. I need to get this out.
I’M WALKING HERE, PEOPLE!