312 Miles

From somewhere west of Houston, jump on I-10. Take the highway until you hit 96 just north of Beaumont. Once you get to Kirbyville, take 252 northwest until it intersects with 1005. There you’ll find the most quaint white church so perfect it looks as though the perfect biblio-american newlyweds might manifest at any moment with a picturesque family to throw rice on her vail.

It was there I found myself this past Saturday with Brother Harold.

A few weeks ago, though we’re not entirely sure when, my aunt passed away. I say I’m not sure because she was found on Monday, March 14th curled into the fetal position at the end of her bed after calls went unanswered and my mother forced the issue with building management until they finally agreed to unlock the door.

So I drove home last weekend to help with the arrangements. Hence the church. And Harold.

Here’s the weird thing about death: no one knows what their reaction should be. For Mom, it was a lot of frustration with the family who wouldn’t help her plan. For my other aunts and uncles, it was another person in a long and painful decade or five. Life has not gone easy on them. For my cousin who just lost her mother, answering the phone wasn’t interesting. Who could blame her? She’d lost her only sister to suicide just a few years before on July 4th.

Brother Harold led my mother and me around the old church. Though it was freshly painted and recently upgraded with six additional ceiling fans, the biblical roots had been awarded to it in 1962. Before that, it was a one room schoolhouse I later learned my grandma had attended.

To the right stood two fenced-in cemeteries. One held roughly twenty headstones overcome with long grass. Brother Harold explained that a man used to come and clean up the small area, but he died. So a friendly neighbor took on the task in order to honor whatever family owned the plot only to be scorned later for the good deed. Guilt, I guess, is also weird.

The other cemetery had markedly more headstones. I had to guess 50 or so. And the four of us zigzagged in between them all as my mother commented on who they are. Or were. Only a handful she couldn’t place.

Six of them were people I met. And as I walked by each grave, I noticed something that made every cell in my body light up. Every one of these people – my family members – died by some sort of suicide. Cancer due to smoking. Mental deterioration brought on by severe PTSD. Another smoker. Drug overdose. Diabetes (with refusal of treatment). And the sixth would be my aunt. COPD. Emphysema. Smoking.

***

I wrote the passage you just read in my head driving back from that place on Sunday to my home in Austin. It came to life on its own and I knew I needed to put it somewhere. So I decided to post it here, on Bag of Rainbows, a domain I’ve owned for so long and has held so many different forms. But now I know what it is I need to say.

A few months ago, I noticed something happening. I don’t know what else to call what the feeling was. I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t want to go to work. I cried with every commercial. And I was drinking (and smoking) far too much for someone in her late 20s. So I did what everyone does: tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. And I drank more. And I smoked more. And I tried to smile. Clothes went unwashed. Dinner went uneaten. And my live-in boyfriend was hardly speaking to me anymore. Every time he did, I snarled.

Around mid-February, it got so bad I was scared of myself. Clearly I was in the deepest depression I’d ever experienced. Honestly, I think I had been there for the better part of 5 years but never realized it.

 

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