The Price of Finding Depth

Today is my seventh session of counseling. It has been three months since my cousin shot himself on Christmas Day. He would have been my age—twenty—in sixteen days.

I’ve grown comfortable in this room, in this red plush chair—enough so that I don’t always have to cross my legs or clutch my own hands in my lap. When I don’t stare at the counselor in the same rocking chair across from me, which is most of the time, I stare at the full bookshelf to his left, the books with spines listing every disorder and mental ailment imaginable, the window next to me that looks out of the reverent, red-brick Nazareth Hall, my view framing a corner of Lake Johanna, the cold and gnarled oaks twisting across gray water.

We always meet on Friday’s, during what the college calls “praise chapels.” It’s a weekly event most students flock to, leaving the century-old campus quiet and deserted.

The first praise chapel I went to after Christmas, I stood and listened while a peppy worship leader belted out a Hillsong ballad about “victory over death,” the whole auditorium on their feet and clapping. I fell into my seat after about five minutes and wept, my hair like a curtain, my face in salt-soaked hands the rest of the hour. I haven’t been to a praise chapel since.

My counselor and I don’t always talk about him—sometimes we talk about poetry and art, or we discuss blogs and books we’ve read. But he always comes up. I try not to be surprised by the fact that I always have more to say.

I tell my counselor the question that I asked my roommate last night while she was sprawled on the thinly-carpeted dorm-room floor doing theology homework, clacking on laptop keys, the white Macintosh apple glowing in my direction.

Are you satisfied with your life?

She did not hesitate when she said yes. When she asked me the same, I responded that I don’t know whether I’ve ever been truly satisfied by anything. That I am always seeking, always trying, always groping for something more. And it’s exhausting.

My counselor looks at me quiet with focused eyes, waits while I feel my face wrinkling up in frustration, my palms sweating in this blanketing room that smells of the red hard candies on the desk. All my life, I tell him, I’ve always seen the worst fate possible as feeling and experiencing life shallowly. But what I’ve forgotten until now is that the deepest depths of the ocean are the darkest and loneliest places on earth.

It is saying these words aloud that makes me crush a plush Kleenex against my eyes, stop while I try to control my voice and breath. My counselor tells me I feel isolated from people because I feel and experience things in ways that most twenty-something college students do not. He says I am “burdened by insight.” His statement flattering and lonely all at the same time.

When I walk outside, it is April and it is empty and it is snowing—light, gentle flakes, not so much falling but rather chasing themselves around my head and the mass of steely sky. I walk through a world in slow motion. The air is fresh and spills down my throat like ice water, settling somewhere deep inside of me, cleansing me. I can smell the water stirring in the lake behind me, the weather-worn dirt that is finally exposed. I tip back my head, stop on the walk overlooking the campus courtyard, stand utterly still.

Later today I will have classes, and I will read books, and I will think thoughts about all kinds of things different people want in my brain. But in this moment, my thoughts are mine and God’s. I am my own. I am being laced in white, and I am healing in the only way I know how.

Coming Home

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to. My college, my dorm room, even the beautiful city surrounding me is not my home. Because my college, as wonderful as it usually is, will only be my college another year. My room that holds my homemade quilt and desk full of sticky notes will be empty by May. My roommates who share that room with me, the girls I call two of my closest friends, will eventually move out, get married, live their own lives just as I hope to.

Ultimately, I refuse to refer to my current address as my home because I refuse to let my home be temporary or conditional. And I don’t think I understood that until I realized how much I ached for the rest and stability that only comes with the place that my family is.

Here’s what my home looks like.

My home looks like my mother driving an eight hour round trip to bring me back with her. Me crying thinking of the Winne the Pooh quotes and yellow balloons she mailed me last week. Her taking me back to a green-roofed farm house with a dog and cat waiting between the white columns of the front porch she’s always wanted.

It looks little sisters jumping out from behind the couch to surprise me when I walk through the front door, the rough glitter from their cards collecting under my fingernails, my brother letting loose the comebacks and witty insults he’s been saving up for this exact opportunity.

It looks like pushing me and my sister’s twin beds together so we can watch Netflix under her flannel blanket and me rolling on top of her in her Batman onesie to wake her up in the morning, her groaning and whining and laughing all at the same time.

It looks like me riding shotgun in my dad’s pickup, the two of us driving through the trails behind the house, searching bare, blurring trees through the open windows, not even minding the country air hushing in. He parks the truck when he reaches the back corner of our 60 acre, snow-sodden meadow. When he slides out, I follow. He is walking, studying the slender dips in the snow left by deer, and I am close behind. Carefully placing my own boots to echo the manure stained prints his have left.

We don’t speak. There is only the rough scratching of his carhartt coat and the crinkle of wild grass being crushed further beneath our feet. The pine and January air making breaths sharper in my nose. We don’t hurry. We just take in the openness that, for now, is our own. The uninterrupted sky that’s started to dim, this overlooked landscape that has kept its stillness for decades.

This here is our moment. This land is our land. And in this place, in this time–everything about it is my home.

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Photo: Emma Sweere