When I was a teenager, I convinced myself I was going to die in a car accident at the age of twenty one. It was something I actually dreamed in my dreams. It was extremely vivid to me. I would be breathing my last breaths and the Phil Collins Song, In the Air Tonight would be on the radio. I would not allow it to be played in cars if I was in them. I did not want to take driver’s education because of this premonition. Eerily enough, I did take driver’s education and they showed us a film ‘to essentially scare us,’ of tragic accident scenes, and I’m not joking the video was set to that Phil Collin’s song.
I somehow lived past 21. Oddly, there was a small accident in my parent’s mini van when I was twenty one. It was the first time I allowed it to play on the radio while driving. I survived without a scratch. The accident was not my fault, but I often wonder if somehow I almost willed it to happen.
This actually has nothing to do with the Phil Collin’s song, although I’ve learned through the years that many people have some sort of strange meaning or story with it. I often wondered why this was so deep in my psyche. As time has moved on and I’ve sat with countless people in therapy sessions as their therapist, I’ve come to see among my young patients that it’s not uncommon for them to have these “I’m going to die young fantasies.” When I hear one now, it automatically sends notice to me that this is an individual who does not have the capacity to see him/herself as an adult.
My fantasy was probably the same. Looking back, it was not the only fantasy I entertained. In my later teen years, I imagined I would spend my life (again short and brief) in mental hospitals. I had never been in a mental hospital, but the idea made sense to me.
I went through a brief period where things were pretty rough. I came from a supportive home; however, much to my own belief(s), I had no trust in anyone. I believed if I talked about things occurring in my life, the people around them would believe the thing people were saying about me, etc. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t talk about things.
I was sent to therapists and psychiatrists, who had their own ideas of me, and I lied to them. I was not going to talk and at the same time I was dying inside to talk. I’ll be the first person to admit that this is something I still struggle with. Even being a therapist and knowing the boundaries, etc. I’ve never fully been able to open up to someone.
This is one of my oldest poems. When I wrote this poem, it was my construction of an interaction between two roommates in a mental hospital. Having worked in them today, I could see some sort of conversation occurring in a similar manner. What I think drew me to the concept when I wrote the poem, was the connection between these two individuals. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there’s a vulnerability between them. Today I read the poem and that is what sticks out is the idea that sometimes when we are at our lowest, we show the greatest amount of vulnerability and vulnerability is a building block of human connection.
It’s strange because I still can see the individual I was when I wrote this poem. I can connect with that individual. I have felt lost many times over since I wrote the poem. I am also the therapist to teenagers, who I see all the time needing and wanting these moments of vulnerability and connection.
The first time I put together a collection of poems, it was a gift to my now ex-wife. I didn’t make a copy of it for myself. I honestly never thought of it. When we started dating, she asked me if I would read her some of my work. I shared a few pieces and this was one of them. I sent her a copy of the book of poems and it was during a time in our relationship when we were ‘on a break,’ that she sent me a photocopied copy of the book I sent her with a note stating, “I should have a copy of my own book.’ Had she not done that, she would be the only person with a copy of this poem and many others.
When we were married, she would always ask me to read her this poem. It was her favorite. There are many times I think we both could see that the two individuals in the poem could have been us as young adults. To this day, it remains a poem she will talk about and reflect upon as one of her favorites, and I have her to thank for bringing it back to me.
As in everything I do, it’s my hope you take what you can away from it. For some, that might be nothing; however, if one person reads it and hears something that resounds familiar within themselves, that’s amazing.
We are sitting on the floor of the hospital having a smoke. You’re longing for German Potato Salad and cloudy days. You say everything is better on a spoon. My legs get a chill. When I get home, I picture my life on a spoon. Have you ever breathed really hard on a spoon and watched your breath condensate? Fog. I love it because it is feels so heavy and light and light at the same time. I picture other things on the spoon. I am breathing all of them bees, lovers, countries, nights. My favorite part isn’t the breath that condensates them small enough to fit on the spoon, but the disappearance. After they’re gone, I wonder how long it will take them to see Atlantis?
Again, a cigarette. This time I can only speak from the heart. Depression makes me still. Howling still. Sarcophagus still. Poem still. Today you miss shadows and nineteen eighty four. I tell you 1984 is a shadow. I’m not sure you like that. I offer to make you shadow puppets on the wall. Barking dogs, furtive cats, you name it, and I”l try. You ask me to give you shadow puppets of country air. I bow my head in shame realizing it’s not shadow puppets we crave but spaces wide and open for the wild of our minds to run freely.
I dreamed we were on a porch smoking cigarettes. It was a sudden unplanned nap. My bedroom is an old movie house, and I am the culmination of cinematic moments unfolding before God. When the picture is done, he does not review my performance. He simply asks me if it was good enough for me. Hell is having to go over there parts of the performance I did not do to the best of my character. Heaven is simply the pure delight of celebrating the beauty of my work.
Back on the floor with you, cigarettes in hand. You are missing near death experiences and greasy hamburgers. Again, I tell you that the best hamburgers are near death experiences. This time you laugh. “We live fighting off the urges of the best things in life, the things that promise to kills us.” You agree. “That’s why insanity tastes as good as it does.”
Cigarettes in the bathtub and nakedness is what you miss today. I think you miss the womb, I tell you. Down the hall the janitor spills hot water onto the cold sterile tile. We curl up into fetal positions, cry, wait.
Today we wanted to take a good look at ourselves, so we smoked in the bathroom by the mirrors in secret. “I didn’t know you’ve been to China? ” I said. You look deep into the mirror and said, “If you’ve really been in love, you’ve been to China. It’s the farthest place from our reality, isn’t it?”
Today we were too tired to get out of bed, so we just smoked in our separate beds. I miss this already, you told me. I might as well start missing it because someday I will. That is our condition. We’re not in this institution because we’re insane; we’re in here because we needed a day of rest. Just like God took after he created the universe. You can’t blame him after you’ve done so many remarkable things, you need to get away from the ghosts.”