December 31, 2023
I compare where I am this year with where I was six years ago this night. I was in Louisville, I was alone, and I had no money. An old boss was paying me a stipend of $1000 to do tech writing; that covered my rent. I was living on $194 in food stamps, my mom was paying my phone bill, and she sent me $300 in cash every month. That’s it. I don’t know how I did it. Well, I didn’t always make it. There was one time in October I went without food for two days, and once in November I went three days.
On December 31, 2017, I was resigned to spending the evening alone, lying in bed, looking up at the night sky through my window. I’d eaten a ham and cheese sandwich for dinner because that’s all I had left to eat. Adrian called around 11 and talked me into meeting him at a bar. I Ubered there, I did have a few dollars left in my Uber account. (I’d given up my car several months previous.)
The bar was packed with so many beautiful beautiful young men, just like Adrian. Beautiful. We sat with another couple, I didn’t have money for drinks, but someone gave me champagne. I forget how that night ended, but I made it through.
Things were not going well with Jeff, it was bad. I was in a bad bad place. I was at the height of my illness, experiencing manic periods lasting days and sleeping very little. I experienced auditory hallucinations, but I knew what they were. They were troubling, but not so much that I was willing to go back to the hospital. But it was frightening, because I knew the voices meant I was very very sick. I’d be trying to sleep, and just as I was drifting off, I’d sense an enormous shadowy figure hovering above me.
“COCO!” He’d scream.
I’d jolt awake and there was no one. I knew it was my mind. It was frightening, but I knew it was my mind playing tricks, so I pushed through. I’d finally sleep in the early morning hours and wouldn’t get up until evening, sometimes long after dark. Too late to get out of the house and do anything during daylight hours. I got my clock completely turned around. I was frustrated with myself for sleeping so much, but I knew it was good because I was very ill. I knew that sleeping so much of the time was better than ending my life. I knew that just staying in the world, even if I was only in bed staying in the world, was better than the alternative.
I left the light on all the time because of those demons. I still tend to sleep with the light on, although I sleep better when I turn it off. But I can never be in total darkness, there’s always a nightlight in the bathroom, or a light on in the living room and I leave my bedroom door open. There’s a streetlight outside this apartment, so a bit of light is always streaming through the blinds. I do not like the dark much. It’s hard for me to be in the dark.
Just six weeks later, on Valentine's Day, for fuck’s sake, I outed Jeff to his wife. And it was over. Just like that. The death blow. That was indeed the single worst event and the absolute worst time of my entire life. My entire life. That was the closest I’ve ever come to suicide. So close. Just a hair’s breadth away.
I pushed through the next few months, sleeping most of the time. I started going to happy hour at the Limbo, a tiki bar that had just opened a block from the Henry Clay. I could get an empanada for $2. I went nearly every day. And then I made friends with the burlesque performers. And things got a little bit better.
In May, I met Terri at the Limbo, and we met for dinner the next night at the Mexican restaurant down the block. She paid. She knew.
She started taking me to the Unitarian Church, but I never attended a service. I stayed in the basement while she made lunch for the congregation, cooking on a massive cast iron stove that was possibly a hundred years old. After, she’d take me to Kroger, and when we’d meet at the cash register up front, she’d buy my groceries. I was amazed at her kindness, and thankful beyond measure. Oh Terri, Terri, Terri. You saved me, Terri. I hope you know.
As the months passed, I made more friends, and everything just got so much better. I met Talina. And Terri and Talina and a bunch of other people started hanging out at the Limbo together. And I was saved. Terri and Talina and Ethel Loveless and the Limbo and a lot of other people became my tribe. And they saved me. I would not be here if not for them. Truly. Not an exaggeration.
My disability came through in August, so I never went without food again. I was still broke as all hell, but I didn’t ever go without food again. I kept my pantry well stocked at all times. I still have a stocked pantry and a full refrigerator. Food insecurity is absolutely terrifying. No one should have to experience that. I didn’t know how terrifying it is to not have food until I experienced it myself. I’m glad I know, I wouldn’t trade the experience because now I know, but it was terrifying.
Over the next months and into 2019, things continued to get better and better and better. And then in early May, the Friday before Derby, I got the call from my brother. My mother had flesh eating bacteria and had been airlifted to a hospital in Vancouver where she’d had emergency surgery. She was not expected to live. A few days later, I flew back to Washington. When I walked out of my apartment in the Henry Clay, I didn’t look back, because somehow, I knew. I just knew I’d never be back.
A new phase of my life began, one that also threatened to take me down. For four and a half years, I white knuckled it as my mother’s caregiver. It was so not the right place for me to be. I am so not the right person for that role. I can barely manage my own mental illness, layering my mother’s dementia on top of my depression and anxiety brought me to the brink over and over. There were two more trips to the ER for suicidal ideation and a long hospital stay in August 2022. I kept pushing through. I don’t know how but I kept pushing through. And then just three months ago, it was too much. It was time. In early October, I told my brother I was leaving, that I’d be out by the end of December.
I spent weeks looking for an apartment in Portland. I found a 345 square foot studio that would have been $1360 all inclusive. That was daunting. My expenses would exceed my income. I was poised to do it, but thankfully, I found the perfect home. It's a small one bedroom in a senior complex near downtown that’s just under $1000 a month. I’m living right at the edge, but I’m doing it. And I’ll keep on doing it.
On this New Year’s Eve, I’m alone writing, Tabitha sleeping on the ottoman next to me. I just made zucchini bread, a low-cal recipe. Just kidding. It’s not low cal. I’ve been cooking a lot because school doesn’t start for a couple weeks so I have a lot of time and I’m too broke to go out. I’m using ingredients from my very full pantry. I’m making elaborate salads with produce from my heavily stocked refrigerator. Low-cal salads. Just kidding. They’re not low-cal. (Lettuce is a vehicle for salad dressing. Tell me I’m wrong.)
Just three short months ago, I really thought it was over for me, that I’d never be free again, that I’d never be happy again. I wouldn’t say I’m doing cartwheels, but I am not depressed, and I have no anxiety. I should be worried about not having much money, but I’m not. I need this time, alone, here, in this lovely little apartment. It’s OK that I don’t go out, it’s good I don’t spend money in restaurants and bars and on gas. It’s the right thing to do right now, actually. I haven’t felt this settled and content for as long as I can remember. I was thinking just tonight I like this place better than the Henry Clay. And that’s saying a lot. I loved the Henry Clay more than anyplace I’d ever lived.
The last few posts I haven’t closed with “I Persevere. And life goes on.” Because I have Persevered, quite successfully, beyond what I was able to imagine, and life is no longer passing me by. I’m truly living for the first time in as long as I can remember.
Six years on from the absolute lowest and worst time in my entire life, I’m doing fine. I’m doing great.
Happy New Year!