A Live Wire

I didn’t care if I would be memorialized or eulogized or even remembered. I just wanted to die. I mean put me in the ground six feet deep or burn my corpse to ashes die. I just wanted out.

I was working as a freelance graphic designer for a major cosmetics company. Finding just the right spot to place the name of the color on a “revolutionary” new mascara wand seemed especially insignificant in light of recent events. “Racy Red” completely paled in comparison to “End of My Marriage Mauve.” I wondered how it was possible to experience total numbness when every nerve in my body felt like an exposed, live electrical wire.

It had barely been a week since I confidently declared, “I can say for certain that I want a divorce:” In retrospect, the tone and the statement were probably attempts to convince myself more than my impending ex.

My phone still holds evidence of the many self-imposed Pinterest therapy sessions that followed. Quotes like, “The struggle is part of the story” arranged in visually pleasing typography were beneficial when a bottle of wine or half a Xanax were unavailable, particularly at work. The struggle was my story, I sullenly thought to myself while blankly staring up at the computer screen filled with cosmetic references and Photoshop tools.

the-struggle-is-part-of-the-story-Whitney-English

As I browsed through profound words of wisdom from the likes of Lao Tzu and C.S. Lewis, my cell phone lit up with a message from my ex: “Lets get a drink together.” Those five words had been used often in the three years of our manic relationship, usually resulting in worsening situations. I allowed some time to pass before replying, “That is obviously not a good idea.”

In and of itself, this was not even close to being the worst day of my existence. That day was suffered two years earlier when I lost my mother — the most important person in my life — to her eight-month battle with metastatic lung cancer. It was merely four months after also losing my father to cancer and one year before losing my grandmother on my deceased mother’s birthday. Now, I was losing my husband to what court paperwork described as “irreconcilable differences,” which felt like the most generalizing, full of shit descriptor in the history of the English language. We put an ‘X’ in that box on the form because there seemed to be no way to properly classify the pain, heartache, disappointment and betrayal we each felt. This latest loss of what little family I had left pushed me over the edge. I was over all of the devastating loss that had infiltrated my life in the past few years. I thought that if this was what my life was going to be like, I had no reason to continue living it. I was giving up. I didn’t want to be strong anymore, no matter how good at it I had become. Who was I being strong for, anyway? Why was I bothering to try? When my mother was alive, she’d snap me out of a funk with one of her favorite phrases: “Buck the fuck up!” Four single syllable words that strengthened and motivated me more than any of Lao Tzu’s philosophical expressions.

But she was long gone and I had never felt more alone. Except for Death. Death had been such a large part of my life that it had become familiar; a constant companion that was now feeling like a soothing friend who was offering me an invitingly peaceful respite from the grim question of how many losses I would have to endure. Like the annoying hook of a bad pop song, it played over and over in my mind and all I wanted was to turn it off.

That evening, after work, I found myself at an In ‘n’ Out drive-thru as one of my best friends, Sandy, strummed her acoustic guitar in the passenger seat. She was singing an improvised tune about the “animal style” fries we were about to devour. It put a smile on my face and then gave me a good laugh, though the emptiness inside me never disappeared.

Sandy alternated her fast food inspired ditties with performances of well intentioned, “Fuck-Hims” and “You-Can-Do-Betters” which were only serving to irritate the hell out of me. Every time I heard a curse-word escape her mouth followed by my ex’s name, I wanted to silence her. It was adding to the already deafening cacophony of angst in my head and I had to make it stop. I was a ticking time bomb, my emotions on the verge of exploding into a million tiny fragments of self-destructive shrapnel.

Sandy and I were en route to the home of my loving friend Norma. Norma had planned a quintessential “girl’s night in” for the three of us: women who were more family than friends, vino that never stopped flowing, plenty of greasy food and then homemade ice cream. After all, what’s more suitably cliché after a difficult breakup than ice cream?

I parked around the corner from Norma’s apartment and called her to let her know we’d be there shortly. With the bottle of red that I couldn’t wait to uncork in my left hand, a purse hanging heavily on my right shoulder and Sandy walking slightly behind, we rounded the corner onto post rush hour Moorpark Street.

As we continued westward down the sidewalk, the summer sun was in its final setting stages, creating tones of pinks, purples and oranges against a cloudless sky. There was something about sunsets like that one that made me imagine that the sky was on fire. I silently wished it were.

A young woman jogged past us, taking advantage of the unusually cool late summer evening. Exercise – probably a good idea for me right now, I thought to myself as her sneakers echoed off the concrete. I knew from experience that exercise was a good anti-depressant… perhaps if I engaged in some physical activities, I wouldn’t want to die anymore. “Good luck finding the motivation,” scoffed a familiar judgmental voice in my head. Alcohol was much more appealing than profuse sweats and shin splints. My glimmer of hope was swiftly defeated.

A distinctive sound suddenly demanded my attention overhead. It was the unmistakable crackle-buzz-hum of electricity – a spine-tingling noise that I had heard on TV and in movies. I looked up just in time to see one of the high-voltage power lines suddenly snap off of its towering post in a burst of sparks and come swinging down in my direction. I ducked instinctively, covering my head with my right arm, and felt the hard, sharp slap of heavy-gauge rubber-covered electrical wire strike the back of my exposed neck just below my skull. A startled yelp was all I heard from Sandy as the wire struck her left arm before landing on the ground and instantly igniting a fire in the grass.

I still have no idea how long I stood there in a state of, thankfully metaphorical, shock, staring at the flames as they spread toward the street, threatening the cars parked along the curb. My phone rang and I dazedly rummaged it out of my purse.

Hello?”  I sounded out of breath. In my peripheral vision, I saw that the jogger I’d admired had returned, apparently having witnessed the whole thing.

Linds!”  Norma sounded alarmed,  “Are you okay?”

Norma, youll never believe what just happened, I began slowly, leaving ample space in between each word, I I I have to go,” I stammered, hanging up the phone. While my neck could still feel the warm, stinging aftermath of the wire’s assault, Sandy and I were otherwise physically okay.

Norma came running out of her apartment building toward us, alarmed by the combination of our cryptic call and all of the power in her building suddenly going out.  The jogger was already on the phone, speaking to the fire department. I recounted the event to Norma while onlookers gathered and tenants exchanged mostly second-hand accounts.

She got hit in the head,” one person informed another and the jogger repeatedly asked me, “Are you sure youre okay?  The dispatcher wants to make sure.” I noticed the sunset was paling in comparison to the growing flames and the mass of cell phone screens snapping photos for their latest shamelessly exaggerated Instagram posts.

After being interrogated on my physical status once again, I leaned over to Norma and pleadingly whispered, “Can we please go inside?  I dont wanna be out here anymore.”

The three of us made our way to Norma’s third story apartment where we lit candles and poured the wine. That night, the shock dissipated and my friends allowed me to begin what I recollect as my first and last massive sob fest. Tears streamed down my face at tsunami warning levels and I cried so hard that my ribs literally ached. I lost my breath on multiple occasions, angrily pounding my fist into the carpeted floor. And somewhere in between an aggressive overuse of profanities and the overindulgent consumption of ice cream and wine, the morass of misery in my head finally disintegrated.

How could I ever justify another pity party or suicidal thought? I hadn’t merely “become good at” being strong – I was strong. And it should have been no surprise since that was how my mother had raised me. She had never expressed defeat in my presence even when faced with a plethora of incomparably challenging situations including her own divorce after almost twenty-five years of marriage. In my darkest hour, longing for death, hopeless, and unable to find a reason to continue, that wire had spoken volumes. Of the many things it told me, among the loudest was “Buck the fuck up.” And despite all of the disparaging noise that had been filling my head, her mantra came through loud and clear.

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