Part One: Childhood + Adolescence

by Kait Mauro

You can't remember if they turned the ambulance sirens on or not. You remember the EMTs arriving at your apartment on Oakland Ave. You remember them asking you to put out your cigarette because they had oxygen equipment with them. You had been scrolling through your laptop trying to decide what music you wanted to listen to while you died. You don't remember what you picked but you remember feeling a lot of pressure to pick the right thing and feeling like you didn't have the right thing. You remember giving your little dog, Lena, a bunch of treats before you left with the EMTs and saying goodbye to her, knowing it would be a while before you saw her again, knowing you had never been apart for as long as you were now going to be. You remember walking outside in the winter weather to the ambulance. You do not remember getting into it. You do not remember much of the ride except someone putting an IV into your left arm. You were drunk and had taken some Klonopin when you decided you were done and going to overdose. You were afraid of dying, you always have been, just not as afraid as you were of living. You were drunk enough to text a friend back and to tell him what was going on when he asked. He called 911 and most likely saved your life by doing so. As soon as you arrived at the ER they gave you something, some sort of tranquilizer probably, and your memory of the next three days in the ICU is very blurry.

People often hit rock bottom more than once, you think. You know you have hit it many times. The scene above is one of your many rock bottoms but it was the one with the most consequences, which you will get into later, so you thought you would start there. The scene above happened in late January of 2015.

Where it all actually starts is, in some Freudian way, in your childhood. You didn't have a bad childhood, but it was kind of a strange one. You had two parents who loved you. You are one of their five children, the second oldest. You did gymnastics. You were “unschooled” after 4th grade — which means your mother pulled you out of school to homeschool you but didn't actually do any formal teaching with you. You taught yourself a little for the SATs and managed to get a good enough score, even on the math section, though you still to this day don't know basic algebra, to get into universities. You loved horses (and pretty much any animal). You have been a vegetarian ever since you were a very young child when you asked your mother what a meatball was and she said, “dead cow.” You grew up surrounded by pets of various species. You had a pet rabbit named Thumper who had to be bathed twice a day because he was paralyzed from a broken spine sustained when someone else dropped him. Your mother ordered a canine wheelchair for him, custom-made to the specifications of a rabbit's body. You'd put a diaper on him and he'd wheel happily around.

You competed in 4H riding competitions and your father and you especially bonded over all the time you spent together at the barn with your quarter horse, Teddy, and all of the practicing and the getting ready for the competitions and waking up at 5am to get there on time. You'd always stop at McDonald's on the way — he'd get coffee and you'd get a small cup of orange juice. You'd get two mini apple pies for $1 and split them.

He has had depression for almost as long as you can remember but has always refused to get help for it. To this day, even after witnessing your life, he doesn't really believe in mental illness. He says, “I have down days too sometimes,” when you tell him how your own brain is trying to kill you. He used to be a private detective but now he mostly gambles to support himself.

You know your mental illness comes from your father's side because all of his father's siblings were mentally ill and his half-brother, your half-uncle, is bipolar and schizophrenic. This half-uncle's name is Darren and you will become close once you are an adult. You will call each other when you are really down because you will understand each other in a way non-mentally ill people cannot, as hard as they might try.

There was trouble in your family, as there is in most families. You were diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when you were two years old. You have no memory of this but you grew up terrified of doctors and hospitals, cringing at the smell of your nurse/midwife mother when she'd get home from the hospital, and having to inject yourself with syringes of insulin six or so times a day. You grew up terrified of all the bad things that can happen to a person with diabetes — amputations, going blind, kidney failure, etc. You hated doctor appointments, which you had to go to at least every few months for most of your childhood, because that's when you would be revealed for the “bad” diabetic you were. Your A1C would always be too high (a 6 month average of your blood sugar levels) and until you turned 18 they were allowed to tell this to your mother, so you'd fight all the way home from the appointments and you'd feel like a failure and one or both of you would cry.

You became a good liar but the A1C from the blood work would always give you away. A day or two before an appointment you'd sit in your room with your blood meter, meticulously changing the date and time and putting false “good” numbers in it, making it appear that you checked your blood sugar more often than you did and that your blood sugars were better than they were. You would spend hours doing this before every appointment. You felt your own mortality from a very young age because of your type-1 diabetes. You never felt invincible like some people claim young people do.

You can't remember what came first — your mother's cancer diagnosis or your depression. Your mother took you to see a therapist at some point between age 10 and 13 and the therapist and you spent most of your time together talking about how your grandparents, who you love dearly, kept taking your older sister and cousins on these fancy trips to Europe and how jealous you were that they never took you. They never took you because they were afraid of your diabetes, but you were protecting your psyche and yourself too much at the time to connect these dots. You thought they just didn't like you as much as your sister and cousins. Your mother says she took you to therapy because you seemed moodier than normal for that age and cried a lot. The therapist referred you to a psychiatrist who prescribed you Prozac. You hadn't yet learned how to swallow pills so you had to take this disgusting liquid version, mint-flavored, and didn't stay on the medication for very long. You think you saw therapists on and off throughout your adolescence but you can't really remember any of them very clearly except that one wore a lot of turquoise jewelry every time you saw her and one asked you questions about suicidal thinking in a very tiny office (which you didn't understand because you were so young and weren't suicidal yet).

Your mother survived her cancer after multiple surgeries and a period of chemotherapy. You can't remember much of this. You think, as a way of protecting yourself, you just pretended it wasn't happening most of the time. You have three clear memories from this period of your life - one of which you turned into a prose poem and later titled, “Chemistry:”

The day my mother loses her hair, my classmates learn the scientific method. The memory is all charcoal lines, drawn with an artist's loose hand and defined by repetition. Charcoal smudges as one sketches on, blackening fists like temples on Ash Wednesday. “I look like an old man,” she says to me as she examines her reflection in the large bathroom mirror.

It was right after her hair had fallen out from the chemotherapy. The other two memories are the Christmas she spent in the hospital and how, on Christmas morning, you opened up a gift from her in the living room — an iPod speaker system/radio. You had really wanted speakers for your iPod and felt so grateful and just absolutely heartbroken and wracked with guilt that she wasn't there with you and you couldn't thank her. The other is a memory from after she finished chemotherapy — you see her putting on a one-piece swimsuit from somewhere near your parents' bedroom door in the house on Bevington Rd and can't believe how thin she has gotten.

The other reason your mother took you to therapy was that you became a little thief. You don't remember how old you were, somewhere between 10 and 14, but you kept stealing little bits of money out of your mother's purse and clothing or money from your older sister's room, where you knew you were not supposed to go. You think, now, that you felt entitled to it in some twisted way because her father (she's from your mother's first marriage) had a lot of money and bought her fancy horses to ride and she got to go on those trips to with your grandparents that you were so jealous of. You have wanted to travel from a very young age and you wonder how much of this desire comes from those early feelings of jealousy. You're ashamed to admit this part of the story but promised you would tell you the parts you didn't want to.