This week I read a piece of astounding writing by Alice Isak on her blog coffee and a blank page:
The metamorphosis that turns worm into winged color involves destruction.
Inside its chrysalis — that shell of skin that emerges, hard and crackling, from beneath its final molting — the worm dissolves, undoes, unbecomes. It perishes into a glue of undifferentiated cells; it gestates for a second time. When old matter made newly-winged rips at last through the dry husk of its once-self with sharp intent, we clutch our hearts at its beauty.
Researchers believe a butterfly retains some memories from its life as a caterpillar. It can, in part, look back.
I pray the caterpillar cannot look forward. I am not sure the dream of one day flying can adequately prepare its soul for the dissolution first required.
Alice wrote this piece in 2012, about surviving a suicide attempt, and linked to it again this week, in celebration of being alive 3 years after that date.
Her honesty has prompted me to talk about something I rarely talk about.
Today I turn 28. Which means I’m ahead by 4 years – my first life ended at 24, and now I’ve reached 28.
28 years living with wings.
28 years living with having known a violent, utter, dissolution.
Having been once dissolved, one does not go on with a happy life flitting about. Having been once dissolved, I’ve never since been able to take for granted that another dissolution couldn’t happen.
Because this is the thing about having reached the point where your heart and gut and brain agree with the circumstances of your life that there is no point to going on—that first agreement opens a door that never again closes completely.
I hate saying this. Or more truthfully I hate knowing this. I had no intention of dying the day I swallowed the contents of the pill bottle in my right hand rather than the single pill in my left hand. I did not want to die. I just had no more answers for how to go on living. Life had pushed me past every skill, every desire, every trick, every single last reserve of resistance, every shred of belief that I could make my life be anything more than pain.
Having experienced knowing such a defeat of will, I lost that morning the ability to believe that defeat can’t happen to me. Since 1987, I’ve lived through every crisis without certainty that I could survive it.
Which means chances are good I’ve lied to most people in my life when they’ve expressed concern about me during difficult times. Don’t worry, I say, I’m a survivor.
If I were honest with myself, much less with others, I’d say Yes, worry, because I’m a survivor of having once known there was no way forward. I now live not in your world but in The Country of Those That Have Been Dissolved.
But I don’t say that because I do also believe I am a survivor. I have, in fact, survived so much. I will probably go on figuring things out and getting on with my life.
But only probably. Not certainly. There have been times this last year when it was not certain I’d reach 28. Probable, but not certain.
To live without the certainty of certainty, to have once been pushed into knowing there was no way forward is a knowing you cannot unknow.
But so neither can you unknow that trapped in a chrysalis and dissolved you still found a way out.
Today I am 28. Yes, I have wings, and yes, I remember what it cost to have them and yes I love them and yes I can never again be certain that another dissolution can’t happen and yes I can only even promise probably, not certainly.
Today I am 28 and yes, an uncertain yes will always be a triumph over a certain no.