Songs

This is how I feel about a lot of people right now.

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This is how I’m afraid I’ll feel one day. I don’t yet, but someday I may.

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I like helping people, especially people I care about. It makes me feel better, for a variety of reasons: My friends’ happiness makes me happy; it reassures me that I’m a good person; I no longer feel like I’m trapped in my castle, unable to feel the rest of the world, unable to understand or sympathize or make a difference. Every time I’m able to make someone smile when they’re sad, it erases a little of the frustrated rage at never being able to protect anyone. Every time I help someone keep going, even if I only make the tiniest difference, the world becomes brighter. The future becomes brighter. My hope for my friends becomes brighter.

It wears me down. Of course it does; how could it not? Life wears you down, one way or another. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. My life is filled with joy and ease and peace. I’m lucky. I have options for my future and love in my present. I have so much. I’ve had my issues, like everyone else, but I was lucky to have them all be inside my head. The world wasn’t actually attacking me; I just had to learn to deal with the harsh, dangerous, crazy thing we call living. I do recognize that my life is blessed – well near perfect – and I do know that I don’t have anything ‘real’ to complain about. I’m not trying to belittle myself, don’t worry. I’m just.. apologizing, sort of, for all the fuss I’ve made over little things. They felt big to me.

I’m grateful for all I have. Truly I am. And all my life, my parents have taught me that when you have something in any abundance, you have to give it to others. Good fortune isn’t meant to be jealously hoarded, but shared with as many people as you can reach. Finally I’m old enough to try, and I’m trying as hard as I can.

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This song used to make me cry.

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My mom doesn’t get it. Or maybe she does, but she can’t stand seeing me in pain any more than I can stand seeing it in my friends, and it makes it hard for her to see why I need to do what I’m trying to do. She doesn’t want me to give of myself so much that I don’t have enough left of me to live my own life. I agree with her, but I don’t want to stop giving of myself. I have to find the balance, yes, the lines I need to draw between my life and other people’s so that my life won’t drown; but I don’t want to draw lines that are too thick just because I don’t know yet what I’m doing. I’d rather draw lines that are too thin.

Pain is a lesson, if you let yourself learn it. It’s like falling down. When you’re little, you run around at top speed, tiny legs hurtling you forward as fast as you can go, until you fall down and skin your knee. Then you wail at the top of your lungs as if your whole world had ended, because you’re not used to the pain. Fast forward a few years: now when you fall and skin your knee, you get up and keep running. You’ve learned to cope with the pain.

Parents want to protect their children from every pain in the world. They all have different ideas on how to do that, but most of them are forced to recognize that sometimes you have to let your children fall down and get hurt. A lot of knowledge and wisdom can be passed on from parent to child, but some lessons need to be learned from falling down.

I’ve stopped telling my mom about my friends’ problems unless they’re so big that I need to get them out immediately. I’ve stopped telling my sister. I never told my dad much, but now I say even less. It’s an automatic response, I guess: if sharing what’s going through my head makes them and me more unhappy than happy, then stop.  It feels like a very teenage thing to do, though I don’t know if it is. It leaves me with fewer people than ever to talk to.

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Sometimes it feels like this song takes what I’m feeling and wraps it up, like thread wrapped round a bobbin, so it’s no longer messy and confusing and impossible to deal with.

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I don’t want to be rescued. I don’t want to be saved. I’m not in any danger, and I’m not trapped. I’m not suffering any more than I choose to. I just want someone – someone who knows, who understands – to give me a hug. To hold me while I shake with held-back sobs, just for a little bit. Not give any advice, not tell me what I need to do or how far I can go or that I have to stop. Just hold me. I just want someone I can go to who believes I can do this, that I’m strong enough and smart enough to do this right, and who will give me a hug. That’s all I need right now. A hug.

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Sometimes this song calms me.

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Death

 
 
If I die young
Bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song
 

The first time I heard this song was in the car. I was rather sleepy, and the only thought I had was “If I die young? How morbid.”

The second time I really listened, and I started thinking about death. I don’t want to die. I have so much left to do. I don’t know what comes next, so I don’t fear it – I’ll figure that out when I get there – but I fear leaving. I’m not ready.

The third time I heard this song I thought about the bit toward the end where she says, “Penny for your thoughts – oh no; I’ll sell them for a dollar. They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner.” A while ago Squiggle and I had a conversation about just that: she remarked on how unreasonable it really is that a person’s words carry so much more weight once they’re dead. If this person’s opinions matter so much to you, you should have been paying attention already. I realize that there are emotional reasons – guilt, sorrow, etc. – for taking a person’s words to heart when you suddenly lose them. But I resolved that if a person was important to me, I was going to listen to their advice while they were still around to give it. I hope I manage to stand by that.

Squiggle once told me that one of the saddest things about death, to her, was being forgotten. If she could, she said, she’d be immortal, so that none of her friends would ever be forgotten. At the time I answered that I don’t need to be remembered by my name, my face, or even my actions; I just want to leave my mark in people’s lives, make them happier somehow, teach them something. That way whenever they follow through on that lesson, whenever they pass it on to someone else, however long it lasts – I won’t be completely gone.

It’s still true. I still want to remain in the world through good deeds that people do for each other. If I get to have a legacy, I want that to be it.

But if I die now – if I die young – then all my friends, my family, everyone I know will move on with life without me. I won’t be forgotten, but I’ll be gone. I’ll fade away, until I’m just a story people tell their kids, and not even a very long story. I didn’t expect that to bother me, but it does. I don’t want to be gone. I haven’t had “just enough time”. I’m still here, I still have so much to do, to see, to learn. I don’t want to leave the people I love.

The fourth time I heard this song, I thought about how, when it comes to death (and most other things), my life has been pretty sheltered. Not very many people I know have died, and most of them I wasn’t too close to and hadn’t seen in a while anyway. None of them were young, either – except one.

I tell people he was my cousin, because it’s simpler, but he wasn’t actually. I have a friend in Brazil whom I’ve known pretty much my entire life. Her mother and mine are best friends; her grandparents and mine are best friends; our great-grandparents used to go to each other’s houses for tea. He was her cousin, her uncle’s son. My sister, my friend and I spent nearly every waking moment of every summer together, but I never played much with him. I didn’t really see him much at all. All I do remember is him laughing and beating me at everything. I was a year younger than he and very competitive, and if he weren’t there I’d have been the oldest. It infuriated me that he always won, and that he sometimes cheated to do so, and that he laughed at me; but that laughter is what I best remember, and the reason I did actually like him even when I was busy being righteously indignant. He was fun – he was hilarious – and he was, sort of, family.

I hadn’t seen him for two years when, one spring, he put a gun to his head and shot himself. I’ve tried to understand how that laughing face could be so tormented that he would do such a thing, but I can’t hold the two pictures in my head together. I guess two years is a long time.

I was fourteen. I cried so much. I don’t remember much of it – my mind has erased a lot of the memories – but I remember lying on the couch in the living room with the door closed, my face stuffed into a pillow as I bawled as silently as I possibly could, because if my parents heard they would only be upset and there was nothing they could do. This happened… quite a few times. It hurt so much, and for once I didn’t even have the words to say why it hurt. It just did, even though I barely knew him, even though he probably hadn’t even spared me a second thought since the last time we’d seen each other, even though of all the people he meant to hurt, I wasn’t even on the list.

I thought that was why he’d done it – to hurt his parents. He shot himself right after a fight with them. I have to admit I never thought about it too much beyond that – I think because I couldn’t comprehend a burden so great that death would sound like a good idea. Not for a fifteen-year-old kid. Not someone real, someone I knew, someone whose dad had played hide-and-seek with my mom when they were little. What could possibly be happening to him that was so awful?

To this day I don’t know. I doubt I ever will. At the time, though, the effect of all this was that I hated him, and that my vague disapproval of suicide turned to avid loathing. For many years, that was how things stood.

Now I have a friend whose life is so horrible that she has, multiple times, considered ending it. At first she told me that she had, in the past tense, wanted to kill herself. But slowly, before my very eyes, it got worse, and there was nothing I could do. She said once – in writing, to our whole group of friends – that she wanted to die, “and if you will hate me for that, then you are not good friends because this isn’t living. So why live?”

It felt like she’d stabbed me through the heart. Because in a way, she was absolutely right. Hating her would be selfish. I still don’t want her to die, but this forced me to think about why. I know why it’s important to me that she live. Why is it important to her?

She still has so much time. There’s still so much to do, and so much time to do it in. The world is huge, and life is long. If she ends her life now, her whole life will have been full of pain. If she waits – if she gives herself time, and fights on – she can fill it with joy. Maybe she’s right when she says that the wounds inside her will never go away, that the scars will never leave her. Maybe they won’t. But scars heal. She may never be the same, but that doesn’t mean she’ll never be happy.

That’s the best I can do. I don’t know enough to say why living is worth it for someone who doesn’t feel that way themselves. I’m not wise enough, I’m not old enough – I don’t know.

I used to worry that when someone walked out the door – my mother, my sister, my father, whoever – they might never come back. I didn’t have any logical reason for this worry, and I don’t have a Freudian excuse. I don’t remember when it started plaguing me, the terrible knowledge that anyone can die, at any moment in time. Life isn’t a story: people don’t just die at the most intense parts of the narration. Somewhere along the way this must have hit home for me, and suddenly every time my mother went out for groceries a spike of panic would lance through me.

I was never magically cured of this. I just learned to suppress the feeling, to tell myself that I was being silly. Besides, there’s nothing I can do. If a meteor falls on my mother while she’s buying broccoli, then that’ll be that. I learned to deal with my fear so well that I’d almost forgotten about it altogether.

When I moved back from Denmark, I was morbidly afraid that the plane would fall. Then I was morbidly afraid that Europe would be struck by the apocalypse and all my friends would die while I was over here. Then I calmed down, got over it, and moved on. Until Midnight said she wanted to kill herself. If she died, if I just turned off the computer one day and never heard from her again–

There were days when I nearly screamed with the panic, the frustration, the terror of knowing that I was too far away and there was nothing I could do and no matter what I said I wasn’t helping. There were days when I’d log off of facebook and curl up on the floor, shaking with fear and quiet sobs, praying that she’d still be there the next time I logged on. At one point she told Flip that she wanted to take a break from Mao, from us, from our group, and I nearly lost it. I’d been dreading for weeks that she might just not be there one day, and here she said she was going to do exactly that. She wouldn’t be dead, so it wouldn’t be permanent, but still I pretty much went crazy when I saw she’d deactivated her facebook account. She hadn’t even said goodbye! A short while later she reactivated it, and we had the biggest fight we’d ever had – the only real fight we’ve ever had. At the end of it she swore she wouldn’t ever do that to me, that she’d never just vanish like that.

She’s promised that she won’t kill herself. She’s said a few times that there were moments when she wanted to, when she was so close, but she didn’t. She stayed. She says she won’t do it. I have to believe her, I have to, because if I don’t–

I have to.

I do. She promised. She’ll stay. I don’t know what strength it is she finds to keep living when she wants so much not to, but I’m glad she has it.

Saudade

I miss you.

It’s just something I say. Lately it’s been true every time, but I’m used to missing people. I’m used to being far away from the ones I love. Nearly all of my family lives in Brazil, and I only see them once a year, if that.

I’m also used to getting what I want. I don’t often want unreasonable things. I used to – I used to want to go on adventures and fight dragons and ride a horse and never do my homework. But I’ve learned, and I don’t often truly, desperately want impossible things anymore. I want cookies, I want good teachers, I want to learn languages, I want to read good books. I want things I can fetch for myself, or things that I can reasonably expect to get.

But I want my friends back. I want to see them, to hear them, to feel them sitting next to me. I want to hold them tight and feel their arms around me. I want to laugh with them. I want to know they’re there. I want to spend all night talking with them. I want them back.

My brain is nice to me. It blocks out painful memories, or at least it blocks out memories of pain. I don’t remember crying much when I moved to Denmark, although my mother tells me that I did. I don’t remember much from the months before we moved – I don’t even remember movies I watched then, which is a bit scary in a way. I don’t particularly remember most of these past two months. It helps that I didn’t do much – just sat around on my computer, read books, wrote stories, watched movies. I didn’t do anything. I even remember wondering how much of it I would forget.

I don’t remember how unhappy I was. In a few weeks I probably won’t remember today, either. I won’t remember that I’m crying right now.

I annoy myself. I’m so self-indulgent. I’m so used to getting what I want that when I don’t, I just sort of mope about, giving people pitiful, begging looks. (Usually this is when I want someone to make me food because navigating the fridge seems impossibly hard.) I know that I’m being ridiculous, so I rarely break down and ask for anything, and my family is not prone to giving me things just because I give them puppy eyes. So I’ve learned to get things for myself or go without. (Again, usually food.) And yet, because what I truly want is always something I can easily get, I still haven’t learned to just grow up and deal with it.

They’re so far away, and I don’t know what to do.

I knew it would be like this. I knew I’d be miserable. I’ve moved before, and these are the most amazing friends. I expected this. I even packed my biggest stuffed animal in my hand luggage for the express purpose of hugging him whenever I needed to cry.

The problem with forgetting my misery like this is that I don’t learn to cope very well. Every new misery feels almost as fresh as the last. And I haven’t been properly miserable in weeks, so my mind has presumably deemed it safe to throw out all the memories that could help me get some perspective right now.

I’m going to have to go through a year of this. Maybe a little less. Presumably I’ll get better at it. People do, I’m told. There’s no reason why I should be any different. I have been getting better at it.

It’s odd. A few days ago I was unhappy that I couldn’t make myself miss them enough to curl up into a little ball and sob for longing. I’m so good at pushing my feelings back, at distracting myself, at not missing people that I can’t cry for any extended period of time. My mind wanders over to other things and won’t let me.

They were all unhappy yesterday, for one reason or another. Or maybe it wasn’t all of them, but it felt like it. Mostly they just had bad days at work, or ran into unpleasant people. Maybe this is what’s making me feel this way. I want to be there and cheer them up. I do the best I can from over here, and sometimes I succeed, but I want to hug them and laugh with them and talk about random things until they’re smiling again. If I’m being honest with myself, there’s no reason I’d have been able to do it in Denmark, either; it’s not like I would necessarily have seen them just then. Maybe this was just a reminder of how far away I am. Maybe that’s why it hurts.

Every language has certain words that are untranslatable, and of which native speakers are often very proud. In Danish it’s hyggelig, which has many meanings, but mostly means a warm, happy feeling of being surrounded by good things, of being content. In Portuguese it’s saudade, which means that special longing for something that you no longer have. The sorrow of being parted from someone you love.

It’s a good word. It doesn’t have to be tragic. It doesn’t have to be permanent. It doesn’t even have to be serious.

It just hurts, that’s all.

The Last Day

We fly tomorrow. We’re leaving the house today. I’m surprisingly calm, which doesn’t mean I’m not jittery – my stomach feels tight and nervous. My mom is also surprisingly calm, which doesn’t mean she isn’t losing it. She’s just losing it in a very controlled way, which I find pretty impressive.

The movers are really sweet. There were three of them yesterday and I think four today; the big guy, who I think is the boss, helped me take my mattresses to the dumping place this morning, and was wonderfully friendly about it. The dumping place, by the way, is this piece of sidewalk around a tree, between parking spaces, halfway down the street that’s at the end of our street. For some reason there’s always dead furniture there; it’s on the way to a school, so perhaps the idea is that parents will see it and think “Hey, that looks nice!” and then take it home (or come back for it if they need a car to carry it). We’ve been leaving all our stuff there, because we don’t have a car and the Red Cross shop nearby (which is still more than twice as far as this dumping place) doesn’t want anything but clothes, which is what we have least of.

The stress of organizing the transportation of a family and all its worldly goods (except those which will be left behind – a careful sorting process) across an ocean is enough to make anyone want to tear their hair out (or other people’s hair; pain is a bothersome thing to deal with when you’re already stressed). My mom has managed to be mostly sane, and when she goes insane, she quickly stomps it down. She swings wildly between being her normal self and going into Berserk Mode, in which she has to forcibly restrain herself from throwing everything out the window; she worries that there won’t be enough room in the shipping container for all the boxes we have and nearly chooses to leave behind the whole kitchen, then resigns herself to renting a bigger container if necessary; she looks at things and says “I don’t need this, why am I keeping this? Here, Splash, give this to one of your friends. It’s a good teapot, they don’t make these anymore. It seems a shame, even, giving it away. They really don’t make these anymore, and it’s such a good teapot. You know what, never mind. I want this teapot, I already know that. Be consistent, be consistent. You wanted the teapot; keep the teapot.”

The truth is, though, that she’s organized everything spectacularly. I get the impression that when we get there we won’t find much missing, and we won’t find much extra. (There will always be something, of course; I’m sure there always is. But I think it won’t be much, and not vital.)

When we get there… This is going to be so strange. My dad is already there, waiting; he has been for a month now. He says he feels as if he’s in limbo, neither here nor there. My mom asked yesterday, half teasing, “So, what are your plans for the thirtieth?” My honest answer: Sleep. That desire is the only thing I feel I can accurately predict. Everything else… I have no clue how I’m going to feel. I don’t know what I’m going to think. I don’t know if I’m going to be lethargic and dreamy and detached from the world or bursting with energy and excitement. I don’t know if I’m going to be dying inside from longing or buzzing inside from the feeling of being home. And these are just guesses – for all I know it’ll be something completely different. I imagine I’ll probably swing wildly between all sorts of moods, but I don’t know how frequently is wildly (twenty times a day? once a week?) and I don’t even know for sure if I’m right.

I know I’ll be happy when I see Belle. I know I’ll be happy when I see the library, my old school, all the places I’ve been that have held meaning for me. I know I’m going to spend some amount of time curled up on the bed crying. I am bringing my biggest stuffed animal in my hand luggage for the express purpose of hugging it when that happens. I know it is going to feel surreal sometimes, looking at all the places I know so well and yet don’t. I don’t know how long it’ll be before that feeling fades, or if it even will. Maybe a year from now I’ll look at a street sign of the type I’ve looked at all my childhood and feel that odd déjà vu feeling of alien familiarity, and wonder where that came from.

We turn over the keys to the apartment at five. I’m seeing Squiggle after that, and meeting my mom and my sister at the hotel later. I’ve invited the rest of my Mao-people to dinner after; so far the only one to answer has been Ripple (who is probably the only one awake at this hour during a vacation), and she said yes, gladly. Most of my people have said they want to see me off at the airport, and were only slightly daunted when I told them the plane left at seven in the morning.

I haven’t cried from the sadness of leaving them, not lately, because I dealt with that a month or two ago. They gave me two paintings the last time I saw them, which was Tuesday – Taz made them, being the best artist in the group, and they are the most beautiful things in the world. I nearly did cry when I saw them. On Wednesday I took them out twice, once to show my sister and once to show my mother, and both times I looked at them and looked at them and ended up curled on my bed, weeping for sheer joy. These are the most wonderful friends.

I think I’ll probably cry at the airport tomorrow, for joy and for sorrow. I should take plenty of kleenex.