Music was such an important part of my pre-college life, but I haven’t had the time to keep up with it. My college experience has been very Do as much as you can in the least amount of time in order to save the most money. (Three degrees. Three years. Ready to go!) I’ve worked a lot and haven’t had extra time for things like updating my music library. My iPod is filled with the same albums I listened to when I was sixteen.
Today, Sir Ferdinand shuffled to Styrofoam Plates, an old Death Cab for Cutie song. I used to be all about Death Cab for Cutie, because I had a lot of feelings as a teenager. I immediately reached down to skip it (because, oh, how my tastes have grown) but I let it play through. It’s too angst-ridden for me, these days. Styrofoam Plates is an ambling, five-and-half-minute, bitter song with clashing chords and self-indulgent woe-is-me lyrics. (Maybe you should just go read them.) It’s hard to listen to now, but when I was sixteen? I think this was my most-played song.
The whole thing feels a bit dramatic and ridiculous now, but sixteen-year-old Lydia found it incredibly satisfying to yell, “It’s no stretch to say that you weren’t quite a father!” and “You’re a disgrace to the concept of family!” and “Just cause he’s gone it doesn’t change the fact: he was a bastard in life, thus a bastard in death!” (I told you the lyrics were dramatic.)
Sixteen-year-old Lydia had a tough time navigating emotions. Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” was a favorite of mine at the time, too. I remember writing out that last line, “Daddy, daddy you bastard, I’m through” and having lots of feelings. (I must have thought bastard was the worst insult then.) I was struggling to navigate the coarse*, complicated, lonesome echoes of structure and stability. I was trying to figure out the meaning of family, how mine could be so shattered, and how a family so big could be so distant. And the only way I knew how to process all that confusion was by indulging in my own dramatics.
*I do mean coarse, not course. It was a coarse course. I patched the holes in my tarlatan home with burlap, and softness was scratched away when gusts blew through.
Indulging in my dramatics was an incredibly terrible choice. I did not make great decisions. I never got caught and there weren’t any consequences, which only resulted in a prolonged period of stupidity. I skipped more classes than I attended, but I kept getting As, so nobody mentioned it. I was never at home. There were lots of nights I didn’t even bother to go home. I was also drunk, a lot. I participated in way too many self-harming activities. All of which is a really stupid way to handle your life.
I think, at the time, I really needed some sort of adult interference or guidance, and I just wasn’t getting it. I made terrible decisions because I was kind of waiting for someone to tell me to knock it off…but nobody ever did, so I just kept being an idiot. I reached a point where I thought, “Everything hurts and nothing matters, so screw it all.”
To put things in perspective, my foray in rebellion was probably more tame than most kids’ regular high school experience. (Like, I was in no way selling my body for drugs.) But it was a huge personality/behavior/life-outlook shift for me. In the moment, all I could think was, “I will never recover. I will be defined by the blight of my genetics for my entire life. I will be alone forever because I am unlovable so I’ll just make more bad decisions because there is no light, in fact this tunnel of terror has no end!”
It’s been a really long time since I felt that way. (Happily!) I spent a long time trying to atone for my lapses, especially in my first year of college. (None of the alcohol! All of the homework!! Triple the course load!!!) And now, though it’s only been a few years, I barely remember feeling so hopeless and lost. I don’t dwell on the abusive, traumatizing bits of my history or the dramatic unraveling of my family. All those things feel very distant. I’ve been talking about them fairly frequently here, but I don’t think I could have addressed them until I reached this point of…closure?
I’ve done a lot to get better. I eat and keep my body whole and I take care of myself. I changed my phone number, because I finally couldn’t take the voicemails from my dad, screaming at me for being awful, or the text messages he’d send telling me I was a bitch/cold-hearted/terrible/unlovable/better dead. I changed my name because I wanted to live my life autonomously. I stopped blaming myself. I still come undone when the family I left (for good reason! for my safety/sanity/in order to keep living!) imposes themselves on me. Sometimes I get emails, cards passed along through my sister, messages passed through my mom, all telling me that I was the wrong one, that I am wrong.
But I’m right. I’m all right. I am well and whole. And even though I’ll always have this messy past that’s difficult to explain, it doesn’t feel so bad these days. We’re all trying to make it through the lives we’ve been given. (I don’t know who the giver of lives is, but that’s another matter entirely.) I think I would have reached this peace a lot sooner if I hadn’t taken a trip to Crazyville in my teenage years (I’m twenty-one. Is it too soon to call them my “teenage years”?) but I did take that trip, and in all the ways that it was bad, it was also good. That detour was important in its own way… but I really don’t suggest taking it. Eventually, I gave myself time to sort through my life’s shards and I let the distance between the pain and the present stretch out.
Everything is going to be okay, for me and for you. You’re going to make it. Take care of yourselves. Don’t starve or cut or try to kill yourselves. Your self is an important self, and you’re going to be okay.
You just need some time and distance.