So I’ve spoken of this piece of time on various occasions, but I’ve yet to write it down for myself. It was a defining moment for me, for it reminded me that there was still air running through my insides and it showed me that life was still livable, that there was still a small piece of me that was very much so alive and able to be touched by…well, something. I was 18 years old and trying my hands and legs at NCAA division one athletics. My heart wasn’t really in it, but my head and my feet surely were. It was like most things in my life at that point: show the world you’re worth something, even if you aren’t sure you’re worth something. I was aimless and damaged, but my outsides looked like a work of art, or so they said from time to time. Who was “they” anyway? Perhaps the peanut gallery that held too much weight in my disillusioned skull.
So I’m 18 years old and I just passed my first drug screen for the NCAA. I thought, “okay, well, I can do this.” There was a weight class I had to meet before each competition. I was a “light weight,” the small little pint on the end of the boat. My eating disordered mindset loathed and fancied this all at the same time; it was gruesome and fantastic, it was welcomed and insufferable. I reveled in two a days, five days of the week and the other days, running miles upon miles on my own volition. I awoke at 5am for my first set of practice where we would run around the universities’ open field with rowing boats above our foreheads in small teams, chanting at the same time as pounding the ever loving hell out of our barely breathing lungs. It was beautiful affliction; it was just what the masochist in me wanted.
I had just gotten breast augmentation surgery all of 2 weeks before and the doctors told me not to involve myself in any type of physical exercise for a good 8 weeks afterward. I waited 24 hours after surgery before I began bike riding 30 miles a day, 3 days before I returned to the Stairmaster and running, and 1.5 weeks before I went to my first university tryout where we did mountain climbers, ran never ending suicides, jumping jacks, and pushups. I was in legitimate excruciating pain, but I would never tell you that. I walked around with the fear that I was somehow damaging my insides, but of course that never stopped me, why would it? Like I said, there was no care for self at this time. Not a single care.
Just a few weeks before, I had made a visit to a primary care physician at the university. I wasn’t sleeping. I told her I had come to visit her for sleeping pills to fix my insomnia. In all of her foreign languaged glory she told me “there’s an underlying issue here Miss Hayley, a pill will not fix you, I’m referring you to the psychologist.” I was fucking pissed. I came in here today for a quick fucking fix and now I have to wait for yet another doctor to get me my fucking necessary sleeping pills? When am I ever gonna sleep again? I made the quickest appointment that I could secure and in the mean time I called my good friend who I knew was resourceful and generous. If I wasn’t going to sleep, I was going to at least have some type of pharmacological agent that would help me stay awake throughout the day after my wretched sleepless nights.
It was one of the loneliest times in my life. I could not wield myself to sleep and yet I wanted nothing more than to turn off the world for hours on end. Talk about a travesty. It seemed as though I hadn’t any feelings left at this point. My heart was anesthetized; my soul was littered with nothingness. All in all I just really felt nothing, not a single feeling that I could place or name. It was kind of chilling, but again, not enough to have a feel for the fear, just callous.
It was that time of year again. Good ol’ football season. Surely my favorite brother would be playing and my predictable mother and stepfather would be flying to wherever he was performing to watch, cheer him on, eat cultured hot dogs and stress themselves the fuck out while they watched him quarterback it up whilst biting their nails and anticipating the best and worst all at the same time. Their anxiety was contagious and I’d been catching it every single football season since the time I was a young child. I would’ve hated to be my brother, and yet I wanted to be him in all of his idealized glory. I’ve never hated and loved someone so much in my life and I probably never will again. He was always my favorite person to hate and I was always his favorite target for pummeling.
My parents called and basically man handled me into taking the weekend off of training to come watch my brother play on his 20th birthday. This was perfect, I thought. I could cut me up some “jenny” to get myself through the weekend, alcohol and appetite free, and I might even be able to pass drug screens by the time I got back to town if a random urine screening was asked of me. I took them up on their offer. It had been a minute since I did something family oriented and the begging of me felt like I was the one in control. I was making this choice.
I remember boarding the plane. There wasn’t a sober bone in my body, but it had nothing to do with flying, it had everything to do with seeing family for the first time in quite a while. Ironic how I spoke of having no access to my feelings at this time and yet looking back I see how I did everything within my power to medicate them out of existence.
I arrived the evening before the game and was pretty much forced to spend time getting to know my brother’s latest girlfriend. She was blonde and petite and I wanted to strangle her for a good percentage of the time that I spent with her. It seemed as though the majority of our conversation consisted of her subtly asking me about his ex-girlfriends and trying to get me to spill the family secrets without actually asking for the information. I wasn’t fucking stupid so I gave her little tidbits, just enough to hold her over until I could escape the dullness. I always had this clever way of making my brother’s girlfriends think that I actually cared, whilst silently letting them know that I just didn’t quite approve. My brother deserved the absolute best and there was always something that made you a little bit under qualified, at least in my opinion. These poor women. I would not have wanted to be them, that’s for sure.
I remember returning to my brother’s pretty decadent town home before the nights end and finding my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I readied myself for some more failed attempts at sleeping. I remember felling vacant and ineffective. I smiled at myself to see if I could feel a tap of happiness for a second. I could not. I watched as the vein in the center of my forehead filled and gorged with trivial amounts of blood, just enough to show itself to me.
It was the vein that had been made more apparent from an almost devastating fall I took at age 2 when my family and I were visiting New York City. This same brother had been so protective of me that when my two year old self had decided to climb onto the coffee table unbeknownst to the inattentive adults in our world, he jumped up to save me and ended up falling, with me in his arms. He cracked his head open and I remained unscathed except for a small little bump on my forehead which left this protruding vein for only a few months afterward. He went to the emergency room and has a scar on the back of his head for life, I was pretty much unmarked. He was always my hero, so how did he become my foe? So anyway, I caught a peep of myself. I was sickened. So sick of my 18 year old self. What had I become? I reached into my pocket. A small amount of “jenny” left. I drew a perfect line onto the sink, using a razor to align it just so. I inhaled every last parcel. How the hell was I gonna sleep now?
It was the following day. Game day. I was walking down through the stadium, sunglasses intact, the team’s logo smeared across my tightly fitted t-shirt; my shorts as short as humanly possible of course. I felt thin, because, ya know, thin is a feeling, right? Not. Here we were again. The fretfulness was too much. I was my brother’s mightiest and most diminutive fan. It had been a couple years since I had watched him play live. The last couple years my self- absorption had gotten in the way of my watching him play. I forgot what this felt like. Fuck, feelings, I thought I had run out of those.
Long story short it’s the second half of the game and the score is tied 14–14. It is my brother’s 20th birthday and I couldn’t be more concerned for him. I swear my heart was within his in this moment; I just couldn’t not feel the pressure that he must have been carrying. It was just another play I thought. Its 2nd and 10 on the other team’s 40th yard line. “Just don’t throw an interception and we’re golden” was my thinking. “At the bare minimum just don’t mess up because my nerves cannot bare it.” He drops back, I don’t remember much except that he threw a dead bolt beauty to an unexpected receiver right into the end zone. It was his first college football touch down on his 20th birthday. I will never forget this moment as long as I am live on this earth. To you it might not mean much, but to me it meant the world for a myriad of reasons. The feelings rushed over me more intensely than any mood altering substance ever could. I shook in delight and tears of joy streamed down my decaying, concave face. I could observe all of the random human beings surrounding me jumping for joy, slapping each other’s hands with their gaping mouths wide open. They must have been screaming or yelling or laughing. I couldn’t hear them. All I heard was pristine silence and adoration. The pride I felt was deafening. I wasn’t dead. I was still very much so alive. My brother had reminded me that there was still a life to be lived. I stared down into the stadium from the seat in which I stood. I hugged myself from side to side. I recounted my brother and I as small children; Him always looking after me, me always pushing him away with a scowl. I swear to you I could literally share the trashing of his burdened heart in that moment in time. I will never forget that moment as long as I live; It was the moment that taught me that I was still a human being, that I still felt, that I still cared, that I still had the capacity to love and feel excitement for someone besides myself.
In all of the wreckage of that current timing in the tides of an addicted and wilted life, I was able to see the majesty in brother and sisterhood. In family, in bloody relations, in elaborate connection. Our bond was always undeniable. We hated to love each other so very fucking powerfully. The intensity had always set us sideways. The worry for each other had exhausted us each to the very core, but I fucking loved my brother more than life itself and that will never change. That will never ever change. My only regret is having never uttered this story of a defining moment to him. This story of a moment. What a moment it was, for it was not just another story. It was a truth on which I stood and continue to stand. It was a veracity that forever decoded my inner workings.
Thank you my sweet brother, may you rest completely, for I still struggle with sleep, but the self medication has ceased and the self remediation will never conclude. You are the fallen darkened angel with whom I walk through my every minute and hour. You are the thing, person and intermediary for whom I’ve fought the hardest. You made me into a fighter, now I must learn to fight my battles without your physical intervention. I know your spirit will always arbitrate and because of that fact I march forward unafraid. Are you watching over me? Never mind, you don’t have to answer for I know that you are. I know.