Clumsy

In response to today’s Daily Prompt.

Blogging three days in a row? This is…not going to be typical. But when I saw the prompt was “Clumsy,” it felt a little serendipitous. Namely because I’ve been listening to Our Lady Peace’s album “Clumsy” on repeat all week.

throw away the radio suitcase
that keeps you awake
hide the telephone in case

It was “Happiness…Is Not a Fish You Can Catch” that I knew best, as it came out when I was in middle school and beginning to develop my own taste in music. But I remember the local rock station, long-gone 94.9 Zeta, frequently played Superman is Dead. I can’t recall exactly when I first heard the titular track off Clumsy, but after 2000 I largely forgot about OLP altogether.

you realize that sometimes you’re not okay
you level off you level off you level off

It would be nearly 10 years before I’d listen to them again. Straight out of undergrad I was leaving for South Korea to embark on a soul-sucking year of teaching English at a hagwon. I didn’t know it then, but while I’d learn a lot about myself in that time, it would probably be one of the worst years of my life. A friend who probably knows my own interests better than I do put together a massive playlist for me to listen to, including a couple OLP albums.

but its not all right now
you need to understand
there’s nothing strange about this
you need to know your friends 

I listened to Angels Losing Sleep not stop en route to Korea. I listened to it on the subway system in Seoul to and from training in the mornings, my nose buried in Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I listened to it late at night in Dunkin Donuts, cautiously sniffing a special edition lentil donut as I desperately tried to cram in everything I’d need to know about teaching young kids as a woefully-unprepared 20-something fresh out of school.

There’s a lot about that year that blurs together. I can remember cold mornings navigating the busy shijang near my place, trying to make it to the bank in time to wire money home before I had to be at the job I hated. I remember late night tearful calls home, desperate for the sound of a friendly voice. I was sick all the time. I managed to convince myself that my students all hated me, and that they were plotting against me – and incidentally one of them was, in ways that had a tendency to backfire hilariously. But I wasn’t laughing, then. Honestly, I just cried a lot. So by the time my beloved abuela, my favorite person in the world, died less than two weeks before I was due to return to the US, I was mostly cried-out.

I’ll be waving my hand watching you
drown
watching you scream
quiet or loud

For better or for worse, that year changed me. It forced me to dredge up reserves of energy I didn’t even know I possessed. It made me learn to be loud, when I was used to keeping my head low and avoiding eye contact. And at long last, I had no choice but to admit that something was seriously wrong with me. I’d denied it for as long as I could remember, accepting the shortcomings my family laid out as excuses for my behavior. I was ill-tempered, unfriendly. I wasn’t social enough. I just liked to sleep a lot because I was lazy. I was a slob. Whatever my accomplishments, wherever I went, whatever I did, none of it could erase those “flaws.”

maybe you should sleep
maybe you just need a friend
as clumsy as you’ve been
there’s no one laughing
you will be safe in here

Mental illness is not a thing that polite Cuban families talk about. It’s whispered about in quiet kitchen conversations, behind closed doors, and with a furtive glance. Be careful con el Fulanito – he has the bipolar, they’d say. The bipolar – like it was the leprosy, or the ebola, something dangerous and contagious and life-ruining. Even after I returned home, it would be years before I finally got myself the help I needed. The diagnosis shouldn’t have come as a surprise – it was the bipolar, of course. BPII, to be precise. And, it turned out, actually pretty manageable. It took close to a year of experimenting with different antidepressants and at last the addition of a mild mood stabilizer, but the day came when I suddenly realized I was surrounded by trash. All the detritus of my misery and horrific guilt at being myself had piled up on the floor of my apartment, stacked unbalanced on my coffee table, and grew scummy and gross on my office desk.

Throw away this very old shoelace
that tripped you again
try and shrug it off shrug it off shrug it off
it’s only skin now

It took a lot of elbow grease and the help of a hired cleaning crew, but at last the junk that had been crowding me was cleared  off. Gone, but not forgotten. Some of it is still in my back yard. I pick it up a bag or a box at a time and carry it out to the building dumpster to dispose of – a regular reminder of what could come, what could happen again. One of these days, the bags and boxes will all be gone. It’s possible that the solutions I’ve found won’t work forever – that I’ll have to go through the whole process all over again. It’s a terrifying thought.

I’m watching you and…I’ll be waving my hand
Watching you drown
Watching you scream
No one’s around

I’m not “fixed.” I never will be. This is what the rest of my life will be like, trying to stay one step ahead of the game. All it takes is a series of missteps to undo it all. A little bit of clumsiness and the facade of stability could all come crumbling down again around my ears. I could very well wake up again late one night, one with my couch, old pizza boxes stacked up beside me and empty beer mugs covering the side table.

I’ll be waving my hand
Watching you drown
Watching you scream
Quiet or loud

But whatever my family would like to think, I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by pretending. The time came for me to see things as they were and face them head on. For now, I’m the victor. I’ll always be a little clumsy – things will always be a little  bad. That’s life for everyone, I’d like to think. I take my meds every morning. I try to get enough sleep. I find people I can trust, people who bring me joy, and I do the best I can to do the same for them. Some of us are just a little more clumsy than others.

And maybe you should sleep
And maybe you just need
A friend as clumsy as you’ve been
There’s no one laughing
You will be safe in here
You will be safe in here
You will be safe in here
In here

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