6 min read

Being-Alive Problems

This one is suicidey.
Three trillium flowers, with three white petals each, springing from broad green leaves, over a bed of dried redwood needles.

LAST SATURDAY, MY refrigerator broke. The same day, I got a flat tire on my bike, my only means for food- and errand-running if I don’t want to pack up and drive an entire house (read: I don’t), and it was the third time that same tire had gone flat in less than three weeks. A couple of days later, I broke the chain on a necklace; I broke an expensive earring; I broke my favorite (read: only) tea ball. I biked (with thrice-replaced inner tube) to the grocery store for ice and sandwiches to put in a cooler, and when I later went to eat one of said sandwiches, found that the ice had leaked and the sandwich bag was open, the bread soaked. Thomas came back from one of our long walks with him on his harness and leash with his new collar and new tag, which I’d ordered hand-engraved with my phone number and address, mysteriously missing. Several searchers and searches failed to find it. Getting on my bike to go get him a new new collar and store-bought tag, I found that the bag I clip to the rear-wheel rack to transport things was catastrophically ripped. Riding home from the pet store along a main road, one of my pedals suddenly flew off, not even a thing I knew was possible, and I had to slam the brakes, leap off, and hoist myself and my 50-pound bike over a curb into roadside shrubbery to get out of the way of traffic.

When I reached the edge of the Washington farm where I was parked and mostly live, having pushed my bike up and down two hills, I collapsed against a tree and sobbed.

Should I give up? I asked the tree, asked myself. It’s too many problems. I have too many problems for more problems.

I AM NOT registered to vote. Not anymore. Not since I stared writing about my abuse. Recently, I was telling someone (though I can’t remember who; a caseworker of some sort?) that I can’t have my address easily searchable because of domestic violence, and she said breezily, “Oh yeah, a lot of people are like that.” I suppose this is obvious. But I never thought about it—that there are scores of survivors out here unable to vote because it would make it easier for a perpetrator, old or new, to find them. Readers of this zine may have noticed that I rarely talk about where I am or where I’m going; instead, I talk about where I was, usually not until after I’ve left, however I want to do otherwise, and daily try to soothe my system with the facts.

He’s far away. He’s older. I’m much bigger and stronger now. He’s suffered zero repercussions, so probably already feels like he’s won. He’s not brave, because brave people don’t target babies. He might be as afraid of me as I am of him at this point. But nervous systems don’t speak Rational. My fear isn’t so much dying as being murdered by my primary torturer, and while it’s unlikely, it’s technically possible.

So the fear never goes away. I’ve had whole therapy sessions devoted to trying to make me less generally suicidal by teaching me that if my dad really showed up to kill me, I could kill myself then, first.

I feel like I deserve a break. I feel like I deserve only breaks, from now on, forever. But problems aren’t only the lying-between-furs-without-the-remote variety, and they aren’t allocated according to what anyone deserves (thanks anyway, Catholic school). This time last year, I woke up early one morning in April and heard from my own soul that I was done—I could come on back, rejoin the infinite, problem-less realm. I was surprised: The previous fall I had left a relationship and a city and a career that were all unsupportive, under-supportive, and bought this RV, itself something of a last-ditch directive of my ancestors, who’d woken me up in the middle of the night with inspiration for how I might save my life. And indeed, by last April, I felt better than I had six months prior, when I’d walked out of my apartment with my BMW keys in my hand, having Google-mapped where on the Highway 1 I was actually, finally going to drive off a cliff.

But better was relative only to totally unbearable. I was still in so much pain, and still the hard majority of the time. I was surprised my soul was on board with my suicide last April, but also, I. was. fucking. Elated.

As I was making preparations for my death, my ancestors told me: Go to Mendocino. It seemed random. I’d been to Mendocino before, but didn’t have any particular connection to the place. A couple of days later, an old friend mentioned Mendocino in a phone call; that same day, I got an email inviting me to a queer Beltane celebration there. It was from total strangers who’d gotten my address from a defunct queer commune I’d never been to but signed up to get newsletters from years before.

So last April, I was heading to Beltane. It was the last thing I was going to do. I told my Washington landlords I wasn’t coming back; I told one of my oldest friends when to expect a phone call from the police letting him know my body had been found.

ON THE WAY to Mendocino, I stopped at a redwood forest on the coast. After Beltane, I returned to it with every intention to die there, and found the understory flush with trillium blooms, their three little delicate petals sweetly open in light pink and white. Sitting among a blanket of them, redwoods towering overhead, I called together a council of all my parts and held a referendum on living, hearing out all the objections. But hearing out any desires—and they were few—to keep doing it as well.

The decision was close to, but not quite, unanimous. The compromise was to postpone dying—but only with the promise to keep checking in, keep hearing out. To always be listening, and to honor what I needed, when I needed it. Up to and including death.

Part of the renewed willingness to stay alive was that I’d met someone. People almost exclusively reserve this phrase—I met someone—to impart the gravity of a romantic collision, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Another queer from Seattle had driven all the way to Mendocino to go to Beltane, to go to that Beltane, and we’d met and nourished one another’s experience, in an intense and platonic way.

Always on the lookout for the right husband, I asked my parts in the woods after if I could just marry him. They (and the trees) roundly replied No. But we stayed connected (turns out marriage isn’t the only way!); we’ve had weekly phone calls, and now have monthly family dinners.

I’m going over to where he lives tonight. One of his housemates (hi boo, if you’re reading this!) just texted that he’s cooking. Tomorrow, we’re flying out together to Beltane. This time I’m going to Tennessee, to Short Mountain Sanctuary, and I’m not afraid to say where I’ll be. Not because I’ve freed myself of the aftereffects of domestic violence—I haven’t. But because that many queer and trans bodies is powerful in a way I know my perpetrator isn’t brave enough to go anywhere near, let alone confront.

What consequences have your problems? the tree I was sobbing against the other day asked (I know that sounds like old English, but it’s actually kind of hard to transcribe tree communication that isn’t a picture of a margarita can). I considered. The most immediate ones—broken appliances, bike parts, etc—are very inconvenient, and some are extremely expensive. The broader ones—dysphoria, discrimination, poverty, the perpetual murder-fear and grief following atrocity—they’re painful. They’re part of this journey I chose when I came barreling to earth full of confidence (read: overconfident) that no amount of suffering was too much for me. When we were kids, they read us Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day because days like that are part of life, for everyone. For some of us, they can trigger a chronic, very real desire to die.

Trillium plants take at least seven years to flower. This August, it’ll be seven years since I confronted my father, and I still have—I’ll still have—I’ll always have—more being-alive problems, on top of whatever else I’m already carrying. The tree at my farm reminded me of this. It was super windy, and its čəbidac branches, famously brittle, groaned and creaked overhead. I looked up and took a step back just as one cracked off from a hundred feet above, crashing to the ground near my feet. The tree didn’t mind if I give up. I don’t, either; embracing that suicidality is a condition I live with, without judgment, has to be part of my self-love. I wasn’t sure if the tree and the wind were offering to help me out—if, if I stood under it long enough, a falling branch might kill me—so I let them know where I was at.

No, I whispered, shaking my head, backing up. I want to stay.