NPR drones, a voice is describing the surface of the earth being like the surface of a drum, showing and broadcasting the turmoil that occurs deep within its core, things like earthquakes and volcanoes and eruptions.
I think of my core erupting, over and over again in twenty-six and a half years, my drum surface struggling to broadcast what's underneath.
A week before the end of camp, we sat in the pine grove, idly chatting before Sunday meeting. My legs stretched out in front of me, tanner than I've ever seen them, despite copious amounts of SPF 30. A sort-of friend asks me, nonchalantly, about the scars on my left thigh. What happened?
I don't blame her for asking. They stand out in sharp relief, white and puckered against the darkened expanse of skin.
The moment stretches to an infinity in my mind. I feel my drum surface caving inward, the volcano of years ago smoldering now.
I think of days spent only in bed, alternating between crying and sleeping.
I think of hiding in shower stalls, in closets, in empty classrooms. Digging my nails into my palms until bloody half moons appeared, biting my tongue until my mouth tasted of metal, feeling like I was drowning under the lava flow of unwarranted grief.
I think of how I let hunger carve a void into which I placed every emotion I ever felt, one by one.
Anger, sadness, contentment, loneliness, excitement, despair.
My drum's surface, cracked and silent, reverberating nothing.
Now, though, my tattoos curve over flesh instead of bone. I catch glimpses of myself in mirrors and no longer startle in fear.
I take vitamins and only cry maybe not that much more often than anyone else.
I still don't sleep, deeply, almost ever.
The waves of paralyzing, terrifying grief ebb at my sweaty palms and rabbit mind in the dark hours of the night but they retreat with the sunrise.
I name emotions for myself, like flashcards in my mind. This is contentment, this is joy, this is exhaustion, this is frustration, this is fear.
The names are a drumbeat, tentative.
The meals, a drumbeat too. Steady in the background, three times a day, it is so boring I could die. This is gallows humor. This is laughing. This is fun.
Meanwhile, there are meds to pass and charts to write, and in the fall, there are babies to catch and exams to take and it occurs to me that this ebb and flow, the emotions I name to ground my drumming heart into the lava hot core of myself, that this is normality, that anxious and lonely and sad are not just my drumbeats, but everyone's, sometimes.
The moment snaps back and only half a second has passed.
Self-inflicted, I say calmly, with a half smile and an almost apologetic shrug, as if to say, Oh, you know - a little self-mutilation. Haven't we all been there?
And no, we haven't, that's obvious. But in other ways, yes we have.
She gives me a half-smile back and nods.
Someone rings the bell to start.
Oh Camp Arcadia, when we are with you…
* * *
These words have been brewing inside me for weeks, but they have new meaning for me in light of Robin Williams' death. Many, many people know the pain of depression and have felt - and answered - the siren song of suicide. I often quake in the enormity of my fortune that I made it through my bad years with nothing worse than a few scars and a propensity to write long-winded blog posts on the subject. My heart aches for the families of all those who never saw their waves of despair ebb away and leave something brighter in its wake.