It is approximately the middle of May 2018 and probably Wednesday or something. I wish I could be sure, but all the days have melded together lately, and I have no desire to pick up my phone to check; that machine gives me more anxiety than I can tolerate lately.
I have awoken shrouded in an invisible mist that I’m sure is real and that only I am conscious of. The sunlight forms an aggressively glowing yellow line close to the ceiling, along the top lining of the heavy, blue curtains. I want the sun to go away. Everything about my world is dark, and it’s extremely irritating how the universe consistently refuses to reflect this.
One of the few friends I have made in college lies next to me, still asleep. She sleeps peacefully in her own bed, and I feel like an invader, as I have felt every single day that I have woken up here. I wish I had been able to sleep a little longer so that I could have postponed the sentiment—assuming, probably erroneously, that I would feel less awkward if she had risen before me. But I have always been an early riser, even in phases of darkness like this one. The past few days, I’ve been able to send myself back to sleep shortly after waking, but I’m having no luck today. Thus, wakefulness it is.
As much as I hate to think when I am in this state, there isn’t much else to do. (I don’t feel like moving; besides, if I do, I might wake her up, and I’ve caused her enough inconvenience already by my mere presence.) All I can think about is death, though, and the only thing that provides temporary distraction from these thoughts is the itch on my left shoulder where my tattoo is still in the process of healing.
My tattoo, which is almost two weeks old now, is of my personally claimed Adinkra symbol, Ananse Ntontan (Spider Web). Its symbolism is obvious, I think, because I’ve been wearing the identity of “The Spider Kid” for about a year now. And yes, although getting a tattoo had been on my mind for ages, the sense of emergency that pushed me to finally get it, in the closest parlor I could find in the shortest time, is temporally specific.
I don’t think I have ever wanted to die more than I have wanted to die these past few weeks. Given that intense desire often translates into occasionally irrational action, I was convinced that someway, somehow, I would die very soon, even if I had to see to it myself. My incentive to get the tattoo was an overwhelming sense of emergency to prepare for my death, and I refused to die without a permanent symbol of my self-claimed identity visible on my corpse. I considered it to be one of my final acts of rebellion, assertiveness, agency. People always seem to assume they know why I got inked, but there is no reason more truthful than this: I wanted to have some control over the appearance of my corpse, some power over my death, to make up for the agency that keeps being denied me as I live.
Taking actions of potential permanence is always significant, whether getting dreadlocks, inking your skin, or committing suicide. I like to share significant moments with my best friend, but I suppose this only works when I am significant to my best friend. He didn’t respond to the messages I sent prior to my tattoo appointment. He didn’t respond to my messages afterwards. I remember how deflated I felt when, several days after the procedure, my tattoo selfies still floated unreplied in his WhatsApp, and I had to conclude to myself that my moment of significance probably hadn’t really been that significant after all. It made logical sense to me that my death wouldn’t be, either. If nothing, not even taking actions of permanence would be enough to provoke a response from the most significant person in my life; the indifference from the rest of the world would surely only be louder.
I do not scratch the itch on my shoulder.
Impulse and habit simultaneously urge my muscles to reach for my phone, which lies on the desk beside the bed. But I have no business to attend to on my phone, for two reasons: first, my best friend is still not speaking to me, so there is no chance messages from him would suddenly have appeared overnight, and I have neither energy nor desire to speak to anyone else on the planet. Secondly, I have, for the millionth time, deactivated all my social media accounts.
This is the beginning of the third week my best friend is refusing to speak to me. I wonder what precise magic informed him that this was the perfect period of my life to desert me, how effective his absence would be if it coincided with me sinking into the deepest level of mental faeces my soul has ever known. This is so far the longest period since we became best friends that I’ve been the victim of his characteristic radio silence. He wasn’t with me as I panicked about all my finals (which I got through, but only barely); or about my passport and visa (which I still don’t have); or my impending homelessness (even though I’m being generously hosted now); dwindling funds; desperation to go home; uncertainty about whether or when it would be possible (I still don’t know); anger with my parents; all-round depression and disillusionment with life (as usual, but also worse than usual); exhaustion; still-growing desire to eliminate myself from the living world. Sometimes, he’s the only thing that seems capable of making anything significantly better. He’s always my last straw when I can’t find a reason to stay. But now he’s gone. I don’t know how to do life without him. He’s never been away this long, and I think he’s never going to come back this time. That wouldn’t be uncharacteristic at all. I don’t know how to accept that I’m alone. Every time I think about rebuilding this kind of relationship, exposing the ugliest parts of myself all over again to anyone else, when I think about the energy that would require (which I certainly don’t have), my breath halts for too long. I hate life all the time, but I hate it with several times more intensity when he’s not in it with me. There will be no messages from him on my phone.
A few days ago, as I sat on the edge of this very bed, I deactivated all my social media accounts. My online presence has no purpose if I am not engaging with art, and I have nothing to put out in the world, thanks to my best friend’s silence and inactivity regarding my (/our) next major project. Besides, social media is, for me, nearly nothing but triggers. It is full of excessive bad news and toxicity, and people are angry all the time. They also have this strange habit of talking about the same topic at once, creating a huge echo chamber about a topic I really wish wouldn’t attract so much attention. Even the positives of social media irritate me, because my life is stagnated. Why are my own feet mired in quicksand while one of my favorite poets gives another TED talk? When someone barely three years older than me has finished with her Masters’ and has just been accepted into a PhD program? Why does everyone have a publishing deal these days? Why is everyone suddenly releasing albums and EPs? All I ever did online was complain and articulate my depression over and over again like I’ve been doing since twenty-bloody-twelve, and I am frankly exhausted of interacting with humans, in and outside of DMs. My presence online is at least as irrelevant as my existence. It all had to go.
I still haven’t moved from my position on the bed, and I don’t know how many minutes (or hours) have passed since I first woke up. I feel like crying, but it might wake my sleeping friend up. I want to disappear, but no matter how hard I will it, my body remains as physical and as visible as it has ever been. Flesh is the devil, and being trapped in it is torture. Self-extermination is on my mind every second of my waking hours, and I feel guilty because I keep thinking about how woefully impolite it would be to die in the home of the generous family that is hosting me. I am annoyed at the idea of having to postpone my death, and this, in turn, makes me feel more like the horrible person I am.
I am grateful for being hosted for free in my time of homelessness, but I am also deeply saddened that this beautiful family has to suffer me. I am not a visitor; I am a burden. I am worse than a burden; I am a dead woman walking, poisoning the air with depression everywhere I go. I am a joy-sucking vortex in every room, burying happiness further underground than my own spirit. I wonder if anyone in this family has yet recognized that I am not fully within my body, that the most essential parts of me are buried where only dead things lie. I wonder if they can tell that I have trouble perceiving their words when they speak to me, that I am only receiving muffled sounds that have managed to penetrate through several feet and layers of dirt.
It is the middle of the week, so my stay is only half-complete. I ache with a dull-but-wide pity for my friend lying beside me, for having to suffer my presence this long in the name of kindness and hospitality. I can’t help but wonder how her experience of having a week-long sleepover would differ if it had been anyone but me. I wish, for her sake, that it had been anyone but me. I imagine things would have been much more eventful, comforting, exciting, far less shallow and awkward than my presence makes them. I wish I didn’t exist. I wouldn’t have had to be here if I didn’t exist.
I am still awake, and I am tired. I am tired all the time, no matter how much I sleep. The first few days she and I spent at home, neither of us officially got out of bed until well into the afternoons. We would eventually sit up and joke to ourselves about how badly the past semester had drained our energy. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to explain that there is so much more than the tedium of academia that makes me never want to wake up again each time I fall asleep. In contrast, the “school was a lot” excuse is friendly and much, much easier to hide behind.
I sigh. I can’t just keep lying here.
Before she wakes up and finds me staring into space, I decide to go downstairs and find breakfast. As I descend the steps, I think about how I will be twenty next week. Or would. If I either live or survive that long. Either way, by then, I’ll be gone from this house.
Note: I thought for a while about including the circumstances that led up to this point, but a lot of it is logistical, personal, and hella complicated. I can never give a fully accurate description of the chaotic state all facets of my life were in, around May 2018, and I feel like no volume of words or explanations can ever do justice to the effects life has on my anxious/depressed brain, anyway. So, suffice it to say that there were ample real-life factors leading up to everything described here, and that this is only but a vignette of that season, a mere slice, not the whole, of my mental state at this time.
14 thoughts on “Underground: A Memoir from May 2018”
Your writing makes me have the feeling that “The next time I see a spider I won’t squash it, one day it might write something that relates to me ”
LOOOOOL! My spider cousins & I appreciate this comment!
(This sounds random but) I’m glad you exist, Akotowaa. Your fighting looks different from what other people would consider being resilient but there’s a lot of strength in it, I promise. ❤ ❤ ❤
Thank you, Photoelectric. 💜💜💜
Yup, what Andrea said. Hang in there, friend 💜
💖 thanks for sharing. In the darkest of days, I hope you know that your absence would be felt, so keep on pushing and keep on fighting! You are deserving of life and happiness just like everyone else! 🙏🏾 Blessings
I’ll try to believe you. Thank you. 🙂
I bet getting the strength to write about it is a sign of conquering, right? And oh, there are millions of reasons why your existence is so much valuable – I mean, I wouldn’t have been inspired by Kukua’s story, you know.
Didn’t want to say anything but it’s been two days and I keep thinking about your post. I’m legit sorry you have to go through it all but also know that you are strong and you can get through this.
Thank you. I’ll try and believe you. 💜💜
I have a question: how exactly do you pronounce the word “ntontan”? I know that is associated with Ananse.
Hi! It’s pronounced something like “in-TIN-taine” and alternatively spelled ntentan. It means “web.”
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