22 Strong

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Twenty-two is an unlucky number for one of my closest friends. The reason she feels it is jinxed is that her mother died on the 22nd of September. The number, on the other hand, is a favorite one of mine, not necessarily lucky or unlucky, but a good powerful number in my eyes, and it was just happenstance that I was born on the 22nd of August, which happens to be five days away.

Don’t ask me what I’m doing for my birthday; likely, hiding under a clamshell, which is my plan every year that is yet to materialize. I think most suicide survivors have an incredible array of feelings and emotions to contend with when their birthdays roll around, beginning with “Why?” and ending with “Why?” and in the middle, a gossamer-spun dark cloak of shame, guilt, regret, sadness.

I spent my life grappling with depression that skyrocketed at adolescence. A few years after my last suicide attempt at 23, the darkest period of my life, I met an exceptionally trained, intuitively gifted psychiatrist. He presented me with an interesting theory. He said mental health experts were finding a growing body of evidence to suggest that when a mother considers aborting her child, but decides to birth it, the child is more prone to develop suicidal tendencies and thoughts throughout his or her life.

Now, I don’t know if my mom thought about aborting me. But I wouldn’t hold it against her. She had her two sons well over a decade before I crashed the party. I know for sure that it was not a surprise, but a shock for her to get pregnant for the third time. I know my mom was 36 and tired when she birthed me. All in all, I’m uncertain if that theory holds water as far as my mother is concerned, but it’s still an intriguing one.

As fate would have it and as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I started to turn my life around more than 36 years ago, which doesn’t mean I still don’t wrestle with the gang of crazies that drop by uninvited inside my brain every once in a while. They set up a picnic there and start clamoring in dialogue laced with self-hatred and negativity. With the help of others, I’ve trained myself to block out the mental invasion. Some people at retirement age have achieved the level of mastery in their chosen field. I, in contrast, have achieved self-mastery. That accomplishment has brought me here, five days away from another birthday, four decades after my near-fatal 23rd year.

Since our family tragedy 21 months ago, I am flooded with memories of my birthday that involved my son. The last time I celebrated my birthday with him was five years ago. I remember feeling my usual self: in-sync and in harmony whenever I was with him. I don’t fully recall what we did, which was likely an informal dinner at our house, but I believe my son brought me a sweet card as he usually did, always signing it at the end with “Love” and then his first and last name. His custom signature struck me funny each and every time. Like I don’t know who my son is, and he has to sign his last name just to make sure? I always thought to myself after I read his cards.

My son wanted to strike out on his own from the time he hit adolescence. His idea of growing up was relocating to another state. A few years prior to the final birthday I spent with him, he had driven from the New England area with a friend, who was relocating to North Dakota. As it turned out this so-called friend just used him as a driving companion and, after their arrival, at the end of the week when this so-called friend settled in with his family that resided in the state, he fought with my son. Ultimately, in a rage, he drove my son to the airport, kicked him out of the car and threw his luggage and belongings after him before he rode away to his happily-ever life. Fortunately, a homeless man helped my son gather his items spewed all over the airport terminal. Needless to say, I paid a hefty price for his return flight that night, but I was delighted to do it. His life was priceless. I was so relieved when he returned home to us. In fact, I almost fainted from the feeling of euphoria the moment I saw him stroll, safe and whole, into my view at the airport terminal.

My son was always the restless type. He wanted to relocate to so many places all the time. The raw truth is, he wasn’t going to stay HERE on this earth for very long. He possessed a tumbleweed spirit. It’s ironic how often he, too, said he wanted to move to the desert out west one day, where tumbleweed thrives.

Anyway, four years ago I spent a lovely Sunday enjoying barbecue on our outside deck. I bid him goodbye without realizing how short our time together was in so many different ways. He had been living with his godmother, Pat, at the time. The next day, August 14, a Monday, he woke up and took her by surprise. He was packed and ready to go. Out of the blue he announced, “If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.”

I was also clueless to the plan he executed when he moved from our state and drove away in the hopes of creating a better life for himself in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The trajectory, of course, was the beginning of his demise.

He left no trail behind. After I learned the news of his departure four years ago, I was hard hit and felt abandoned and betrayed over his behavior to dash off without notice and without waiting long enough to at least celebrate my birthday together. Mind you, everyone in Bowling Green was a stranger to him. He had no job waiting there for him. He only had his car and a small amount of savings. He was doomed from the start, and I knew it. All I thought about was how I wasn’t able to give him a proper goodbye or proper send-off with a small family gathering or a card or present. It just didn’t feel right from the start.

Miraculously, he pulled it off. After a rough start, he secured successful employment with an incredible company that mandated college classes and on-the-job training. Scoring an 86 in trigonometry, his least favorite subject, he proved to be a solid “A” student all the way. However, he failed when it came to shutting down the demons in his mind for very long. In the end, the raw truth is, they won his soul at 26 as they came so close to winning mine at 23.

Every birthday I celebrated as a mother, all I wanted from my children was their presence. I was grateful from the second I found out they were in my belly. In fact, their godmother and I prayed over my belly for months before both of their births.

No other “stuff” could come close to satisfying me on my birthdays or any other day. In Bowling Green, my son nearly forgot my birthdays when they rolled around. I didn’t care in the least. My present was seeing how well he was doing and feeling so good about his course in life. That’s where I deposited my faith: wellness and success. It sounds corny as heck, but my greatest joy was to watch him and my daughter grow up into strong, capable, healthy adults.

Since the tragedy, grief has beat me down to a pulp of an apricot, but it has not warped my sense of gratitude. This year will be my second birthday living a “new normal” while hiding under a clamshell sounds appealing and homey.

Likely, though, when the 22nd hits, I will shower and change into something I haven’t worn for awhile, and join the kids’ godmother or someone else in my tiny circle and go out for lunch or dinner and mark the occasion in solidarity.

Another day in paradise, I can hear my son remark sarcastically as he so often did in his latter years.

Yes, I say to myself, “Another day in paradise” with a nuance of true meaning in the words. I imagine a sun-kissed, sandy seascape where there exists clam shells galore for the sole purpose of feeling as if you’re grateful to be alive.

20 thoughts on “22 Strong

  1. Only 5 sleeps to go Stacy!!! check out proprioception our imperceptible 6th sense developed by Daniel Stern about 1987 and if you fancy search the ‘uncanny’ a study of transference or deep rapport as telepathy between patient and therapist.

    I have references if you want them but they aren’t easy reads. In the meanwhile this is something I wrote a bit back and am reminded of learning to manage the loopy turmoil

    besides decides,
    beside myself,
    by his/her side, myself
    when nothing is left, myself
    by myself, myself

    fire blasts,
    embers lash,
    turquoise blue and green, grey ashes
    walking on coals,
    water soft, cooling hurt souls,
    how the heart consoles,
    without a word,
    this love unfolds

    tight sprung coil did spring upon this quicksand shore,
    evergreen daydreams of the years afore,
    oak trees tall fill my gaze,
    bird song sweet ringing in my ears,
    intimate soothing, gentle lamb grazing,
    how can I not be, moved
    how can I not, adhere
    holding you close, my dearest
    to fix this heart with every stone upturned,
    I am what’s left, just flesh and bone

    In fears swirling tide,
    myself resides, hides
    with no particular place to go,
    how long this journey seems to me,
    these sea-less tides in this quicksand of my mindside,
    how I long, fearlessly, for my dearest yet distant heart of home,
    beside myself,
    with myself,
    myself, love thyself.

  2. As always, your descriptive words envelop my heart with tears. I always appreciate how you share your deepest feelings, Stacy. I just wish I could give you a big hug for your birthday and just because. Sending love.

  3. Stacy , we are connected by the same pain – death of a son by suicide . It will be there till we become ashes and merge with the Divine. Pain is there but we are not suffering .Our ” new normal life ” is richer & meaningful as pain has purified us to a great extent. Valuable things in life are free- love, moral support and time . Both of us are doing it in different ways You through your writing and I keep such parents in my home for a week & do yoga, music and counselling for healing with snow ball effect .They come to me in mysterious way as there is no advertisement as it is sacred and secret .it is easier in India due to our culture and support system available for us

  4. Hi Stacy,
    I always feel honored to read your words, and get to know more of you.
    I am glad that you succeeded, and continue to succeed, at keeping those voices at bay.
    On your birthday I will be thinking of you and sending you hugs. I hope that whatever you do, it brings you joy!
    I will make sure to eat a piece of a cake in your name (yes, I am always looking for excuses to eat cake 🙂 )
    You are a bright light, shining no matter what!
    Blessings! ♥♥

  5. Dear Stacy, I wish you you health, wealth, joy & peace to day on your birthday and throughout life. Let all your aspirations be fulfilled. Let us show our faith in the divine by being cheerful ,surrendering to Cosmic will. We are blessed as pain has a purifying effect on us.We are evolving at a good speed to reach our destination in this life!

    • You are amazing Prema. The people who know you, love you and work with you are fortunate to have you in their lives. It is funny how right before I saw this comment, I shared with my friend about you and how you teach me and remind me about the purification process! You inspire me to write next week’s blog post (as you do with so many of my other blog posts!) Thank you my dear Karmic Sister. 🤍

  6. Stacy, I am looking forward to your next post. I hope you will be able to visit India You will be my guest till the day you leave for your country ! We will go around the tourist places and spend quality time together!

    • You are too kind! And, trusting. My daughter always laughs about how trusting I still am also trusting — even after being burnt so many times! I do appreciate your offer. Thank you. It is something I hope I will be strong enough to do one day. We can write a multi-cultural book together about grief, friendship and the universal language of love! 🤍

  7. Happy belated Birthday Stacy! That story about your son moving with the “friend” is very disheartening. We never know how much we are affecting someone else’s life.

  8. Stacy, I believe that trusts breeds trust & I hold on to this philosophy with conviction.If someone exploits it, it is their loss as a keep a distance from them after learning my lessons. I keep my ideals high even if it sounds Utopian, do not bring down my high moral standard. with humility as my partner is Divine Krishna. I have composed songs on Him.

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