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.

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With Abandon

On Tuesday morning someone pointed out a far corner of sky that wasn’t shrouded by muddy clouds. Just a small slice—delicate and brilliant. But by that afternoon the short glimpse of robin’s-egg blue had been consumed by the grayness that has managed to consume everything else.

It was raining in the mostly abandoned campus parking lot I had to cross to reach my room—solid, slow-falling raindrops smearing the lenses of my glasses, pecking their way under my sunflower umbrella, my green turned-up hood, cold and surprising on my neck. I tried to imagine myself a flower stalk, turning up my head to catch the water spilling onto my face, filling my pores, my very cells to bursting. But I only focus on the next step, shrink further into myself, block the impact.

The 6 o’ clock dusk dimming, walls of dark wooly cloud mass, the gray only becoming thicker, I couldn’t tell the depth of the water I was treading in, stepping awkwardly and lurching through on my toes, though my buckskin boots were already stained dark up to the ankles from the wet, my socks squelching under the steady and hollow rustle of water slapping blacktop. The drops hit like mini Saturns, rippling out into infinity while another instantly took its place. Street lamps ignited them like dying suns, burnt orange reflections smoldering and toppling in piercing fractures.

I walked fast and breathed shallow, the air damp and moldy like the patches of acid-yellow grass that refuses to green, the month that refuses to shed it’s winter skin, unfurl the light needed to make me open.

I wanted to force the rain into an excuse to feel alive again, wrestle it into metaphor for new beginnings. But maybe it’s just me that needs to be wrestled with.

When the girl with the pink polka-dot rain boots burrowed in her bag outside a dripping Honda civic, I thought about stealing the rubber boots off her feet so I could stomp flat-footed against the wet and watch it spray out from under me, kick the puddles into streaming arcs. Better yet, abandon shoes all together and surrender the careful confinement of it all. I should have left the umbrella in the lot, should have stood out there until the drops stopped feeling like an intrusion on my skin, shed the layers, felt my hair sting and plaster against excited cheeks, baptize myself out of submission, out of expectation.

But I didn’t.

And all week I’ve been thirsty for the child-like abandon that I lost somewhere in the seriousness of the adult world, that was smothered like a slice of blue in a season of gray. And I know that next time I’ll stare longer. I’ll get my feet wet. I’ll stand there until nothing else matters.