It was late, I was cold and cranky, and she was annoying. What is it with drinking that makes people feel as if they have some sort of right to think others think they are funny? Or novel? Or for that matter, anything?
I clench my jaw, steady my gaze ahead, and close down as I ask her if she’d like to listen to any music. She quips, “C’mon! No one listens to the radio any more; I wouldn’t even know what station to suggest.” She is now leaning over the backseat and I can smell the alcohol on her breath. I remind myself yet again that,
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
And this time go to my “Being dead inside” state since closing down just wasn’t good enough. I get that she is right, I also get that I am driving an old Scion for Lyft to pretty much fund my very existence more so than providing her transportation in style. I also get that no condition is permanent so I…will…not….be….doing….this….forever…
I am a middle aged single Dad to an amazing little girl. And yes, I get all parents think their kids are amazing. Or, at least I hope so. I am “way too smart” for my “own good”, “lazy”, an “ingrate” and faking my 30+ years of struggling with the twin beastly-beasts of Anxiety and Depression. And when I say “struggle” what I really mean is having been so consumed by one or both that I have had to go on Disability more than once. And I mean Social Security Disability, not just a “break from work” temporary disability. I have two undergraduate degrees, and one doctoral degree, a medicine cabinet stocked well with psych medications, my daughter the bona-fide Kryptonite to my struggles, and a wonderful girlfriend who has for some reason, not only stuck with me, but footed the bill of my existence for almost two years now. She is “The Rescuer” to my being a “Rescue Human”. I first heard “Rescue Human” on the “Mental Illness Happy Hour Podcast”. I joined the early part of the 21st century when I became a driver for Lyft and “that other company” by starting to listen to podcasts. Helped kill the time between rides.
“Do you have an AUX jack in this thing?” she blurts out. It’s too easy to join her in mocking my ride and life situation by saying “no”, but I’ve been really working on trying different responses and instead acquiesce with a flat, “yes”. I’m really hoping that she’ll pick up on my lack of enthusiastic response and forego expecting me to hand her the cord, but thus far, she hasn’t picked up on much…So, I fumble around for the cord I bought for the people who are convinced that I really want to hear their music, and hand her the appropriate end. She doesn’t miss another opportunity to tell me that “other drivers” have this other thing that does this so much easier…Did I tell her that I am so fucking broke that part of the reason I drive is to pay to keep my car? Or that many times, rather than caring what passengers prefer or what “other drivers do” I just want to focus on making it through another week without killing myself so I can see my daughter again and get that intravenous “Shot o’ Life” that she brings me when she simply smiles?
“So what kind of music do you like?” Me? Right now little girl, I can barely keep myself together let alone summon up the brain energy required to string along the words to communicate to you what music I prefer. This is one of the most frustrating parts of killer depression; a brain like mine that has done calculus, biochemistry, gross anatomy and dissected a human brain can get SO “blue” that it struggles with even the most most most basic questions like, “What music do you like?” I cannot remember exactly what I said to her but I do recall saying that my hearing is wonky; I cannot make out lyrics to songs so it all starts to sound exactly the same to me. She seems interested and asked me what I meant. I explain that since I was in my early twenties, my ability to make out the spoken word in a sensible way has gotten oddly harder, that I definitely HEAR people and songs, but I often times cannot tell exactly what is being said especially when there is a lot of background noise. Because of this, the only songs I actually know well enough to sing along with are from the mid to late 1990’s. Hearing this, she cues up some song on one of her playlists and asked if I knew who it was. I am starting to feel that she might actually be SOMEWHAT of a decent person and so allow myself to go from my “being dead inside” state to the “closed down” state. I tell her I cannot tell and she is clearly blown away as she tells me it was a famous band from the 90’s. I cringe a bit and wonder if returning from my dead state was well thought out.
She cues up another song and I definitely remember the SOUND of it; “Yeah, I’ve heard this one.” She gets excited and says that it too was a famous band and asks if i knew what the song was about. “No clue”. This goes on for a few more songs and I have to say that she not only seemed more and more like a decent person, but also schooled me quite a bit in my decades of missed music.
She is now chilling in the backseat like a normal rider sparing me the smell of alcohol on her breath. Perhaps she is calmer now? I mean it must be weird getting into a total stranger’s car (particularly a man’s car) at night after a work Christmas party while a bit inebriated. Ok, maybe she’s pretty normal. I figure what the hell, lemme check and ask, “So, what do you do?”. She shares with me that she is a graphic designer and I ask tons of questions partly to try and make her feel more comfortable and largely because I am secretly totally jealous of artistic types. We get to the point where she shares she is damn good at what she does but doesn’t want to work for others any longer. Part of me wants to kind of slap her because having a great paying job at something she loves and is good at is a hard thing to feel sorry for, but I hang in there…That whole, “trying different responses thing again…” We get to talking and it becomes clear that she wants to strike it out on her own but seemingly needs some encouragement. I offer what I can about daring to BE more than what we can readily see around us or even IMAGINE for ourselves and she seems to get what I am suggesting. We talk more about her when, of course, she inquires,
“So why do you drive for Lyft? Do you do anything else as your main hustle?”
I’ve been taking on that my overall sense of health and well-being is directly related to how honest I am with others. That is, as I stop hiding or minimizing – or just flat out lie – about what I am going through, that SOMETHING -really ANYTHING- could be different. Radical notion for me after more than 30 years of keeping my shtuff to myself.
But this question? Can’t I just lie again? make up some boring story sure to kill the inquiry so we can just go back to our familiar and clear roles of “Driver” and “Passenger”? I have hated this question for 24 years now. It dredges up a lot of pain, shame, disgust and self-hatred. What the hell is wrong with someone who has spent more than 20 years of his life in school to get three degrees who struggles to just stay alive? Go ahead…make something up…
“Well, to be honest…”
full stop to force my throat to re-open,
“…I am three years out of a pretty traumatic divorce…”
re-re-opening throat again,
“…that really fucked me up badly…”
I won’t throw up no matter how much I FEEL I will…
“…and I am driving to raise money to pay…”
This fucking HURTS…
“…the fees to get my professional license renewed…”
Yes, I am a failure.
“…so I might be able to make enough money…”
I really am “crazy”.
“…once again support myself and get greater access to my daughter.”
Yes, I am a horrible Dad who can’t can’t even pay child support.
There. It’s over. The end. Nothing more. I am free.
Except for the absolute stillness and silence. I swear I could hear her stop breathing as she took this in. I could HEAR the panic in her soul as she thought to herself, “How do I get away from this crazy motherfucker?”. Everything in that moment was surreal. Like time stopped and the road, the buildings and the other cars were all moving by us in this car that was just sitting in one place in the middle of the highway. I was in some sort of crazy autopilot mode. It’s sadly a very familiar sensation for me. Creeps me out. My breathing falls off to a point that not even a mouse could possibly survive. But, I just said it. That thing that no one ever says to anyone. That I was broke and broken, desperate, and depending upon people like her to help me even if they weren’t at all interested in doing so. I felt naked. Defenseless. Open. I recall experiencing this sense of being consumed by fear of what was going to happen next, then being totally numb to life, and then oddly, ‘free’.
I doubt it took her the miles it felt like to respond. I also don’t really know exactly what she said. I do recall hearing that she was sorry about something…maybe that I had to go through that? She then shared that she was a recovering heroin addict. Clean for 6 years. Knowing a couple of people who have tackled their own addictions, I let out a genuine and heartfelt “Whoop!” in her being sober for so long and offered a fist bump. She then spoke of her own struggles in staying sober and dealing with Depression. Weirdest thing was she never even batted an eyelash at what I shared. It was as if we were still talking about music or some great restaurant in the city, or how I might talk about cell phones. This was just weird. I shared that although I have no clear addiction, that I felt I could relate all too well with the recovering addicts I knew; that there were a lot of commonalities. She agreed and shared that she has been working hard in therapy with her open Depression and new ways to deal with it. I told her that I knew that if it hadn’t been for my birth family’s own vast history of addictions that I likely would have resorted to drugs myself and am thankful that I was finally diagnosed and introduced to therapy. How therapy has helped me to stay afloat over the decades when the only solution that ever seemed to be a true fix was “kind of permanent”. We pulled up at her apartment building as I had said this. She was eerily quiet now. Perhaps fully sobered up? I started to regret sharing that I not only struggle with “Depression” but also with convincing myself to not kill myself. I snuck a peek at my rear view mirror and can vaguely see her eyes are teary. I hate myself. Why did I have to say that? Now, she is upset. I am such a jackass. Please just get out of my car so I can drive off and we can both just forget any of this happened?
“I admire you for being strong enough to get the help you need.”
Huh? What? What are you talking about? Just please get out. You don’t have to tip me…Just please let me go away.
“I was 11 years old when I walked in on my Dad after he had hung himself. I was the one that found him.”
Speechless. Numb. Dead. Hanging. Terror. Daughter.
The words. The image. The pain. The agony. The sights. The confusion.
Head is spinning. Cannot think clearly. My heart shattering. Feel this in the air. Palpably echoing around me.
This young woman was a little girl. Like my own little girl. She had a Dad. Just like I am a Dad. Her Dad, didn’t make it. She found her Dad. Hanging from a rope, dead. Tore her up. Twenty years later, she is telling a complete stranger about this. Why? I am a Dad. My little girl will grow up just like his little girl did. Will my little girl be telling some strange guy that she found me after I killed myself? This will not be! When I die, it will be at the hands of some disease 40 or 50 years from now. My girl will never “find me”. My girl will have me there when she has her first date, goes to her first dance, graduates high school, college, gets married, starts her family…
This annoying drunk little girl in my backseat just opened my eyes to how horrific killing myself would be. That as little as I think about myself, my daughter thinks exponentially so very much more about me. That no matter how real it FEELS like “no one will notice” or “no one will miss me”, that people WILL notice and, worst yet, NEVER forget.
Hearing her story about her own Dad and how his decision has had life long impacts on her life crystallized instantaneously that I will never be that Dad who does this to his little girl. My little girl will never be in a backseat of any car sharing her trauma of finding me dead at my own hands. Fuck Suicide.