This is a Newsletter Entry About Grief, Love, and the City of Boston
But I lived, b*tch!
content warnings: discussions of suicide and depression, discussions of grief, major spoilers for Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
People always get a little weirded out by how flippantly I discuss my history of suicide attempts. At this point in my life, it is inextricable part of my history and my being. Living the way I am is a constant cycle of having to recognize what I am feeling, what can I do to mitigate it, and when to decide to reach out for help. I say the following not with any intention to tug and heartstrings or anything: I don’t think I’ll ever be “healed.” Not like people share that they have overcome their mental illnesses with love, with therapy, with medication, with religion, or etc. When I realized this, that there is not definitive endpoint in my journey to, well, staying alive, a weight was lifted off my shoulders.
The most recent time I attempted suicide was in April 2021. This is a fact.
In February of this year, I decided to say, “Fuck it,” and bought a two-way ticket from Houston to Boston to visit in April, a year after the last time I felt “that bad.” I have a tumultuous relationship with my alma mater, the pressure cooker that broke my mind (several times) and also forced me to become the person that I am now. Without that place, I can’t imagine being alive to this day, but I do wonder how much happier (or dead-er) I’d be had I not gone to spend about five years of my life in that city.
(During my semester off from school in 2018, I remembered the sheer horror at the prospect of not being able to get back to my communities when the administration requested that I make my case to be allowed back at the school. I eventually convinced them with the argument that not allowing me to return would cut me off from my health insurance and ability to get better.)
But it happened. That’s a fact. I have the shiny degree from a prestigious liberal arts hanging in my family’s living room wall to prove that I, indeed, got a mean fucking education and that can’t ever be taken away from me. The people I met and our ups and downs cannot leave my memory. That’s a fact.
I spent my six days in Boston doing work (both for my day job as well as doing a brief PA gig on Saturday for New Repertory Theater), eating really good food (I’ve been craving Flour since 2019), and seeing a few of my friends and former professors. At one point, I walked from my friend’s place in Beacon Hill (very bougie!!) all the way down to Back Bay by accident, finding myself in the neighborhood where the organization I interned at my first summer of undergrad used to be. I walked over the turnpike to the building, turning the corner and then walking over the turnpike once more, a path that used to scare the shit out of my as a scrawny 18-year-old from the dilapidated Texan suburbs in the Big New England City for the first time.
I wish I could say that I had this life-affirming revelation that everything was going to be alright. And although a part of me was screaming, “I LIVED BITCH!!!!!!” the whole time I was in the area, there was a part of me that hesitated to fully lean into that feeling. The past two months have been rough emotionally, although not “as bad” as a year ago, and although visiting Boston was very refreshing, it also felt like I was running away. I’ve never been good at confrontation, both the good and the bad. And Boston has been very bad to me, but it’s also been very good to me. Sometimes I don’t know how to feel about that.
On Sunday, my friend and I went to watch Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) dir. Daniels. Insane movie. (Here’s a great review of it that also summarizes it quite well.) Everyone I know who had watched it had sung its praises, calling it deeply moving, funny, and heartbreaking. I was like, “Sure!”
Man, what the hell. Evelyn is me. Joy is me. Jobu Tupaki is me.
(I love Waymond so much, the newest inductee to the Alicia DILF Crush Hall of Fame, but I didn’t relate to him as much—I’m not just that kind, I fear. At least not yet.)
From the first couple of minutes I saw myself in Evelyn, frustrated with having to carry her family and do “everything” to keep their lives from imploding from themselves, including a tax audit. Her anger, how she feels unappreciated by her family, her lack of ability to express her love—that’s me.
There’s Joy, Evelyn and Waymond’s daughter. Feeling rejected by her family due to her sexuality and her language barrier, you can see her slowly starting to drift away from everyone. That’s me.
And then there’s Jobu Tupaki, a version of Joy that was so abused by her mother in their universe that her mind splintered and granted her omniscient presence and power through all of the existing universes. Although at first it seems that Jobu is out to kill all versions of Evelyn, it’s soon revealed that all she wants is to find the version of her mother who understands the pain and hurt she’s been carrying. Lonely, she’s planned to destroy herself through a literal everything bagel-like black hole along with the one person she hopes that can understand her. That’s me, too.
There’s a scene where Evelyn, understanding Jobu’s nihilistic view of the multiverse, trashes the laundromat she runs along with her husband during a New Year party. Drunk, she grabs a baseball bat and breaks a window in front of all her guests, including her father who has come from abroad to visit. It’s a scene that I’ve seen in all kinds of media before, but Michelle Yeoh somehow captured the rage that comes with the deepest sadness you can ever feel. Depression isn’t just sadness—it’s the anger of feeling that no one else can ever know what you’re feeling.
Other people have talked about it more eloquently than I have, but I don’t think there’s a perfect answer to do when you become self-destructive. I’ve been thinking a lot about my personal, very individual, choice to avoid hospitalization at all costs. I don’t wish to become a burden to anyone, ever. But I wonder if that comes from a genuine fear of loss of autonomy, or if I’m just reticent to being helped by others. There’s no thing that’ll help you feel better, but I think about the times that I forced myself to get out of bed and go meet up with a friend, to help my family clean the house, or to just go out and walk for thirty minutes straight down the streets of a city that beat the shit out of you and also taught you how to love.
I’m never going to stop thinking about the scene where Evelyn and Waymond stare at each other, rainbows lighting up each other’s faces, remembering their love for each other. I’m never going to stop thinking about Evelyn asking Joy to stay home and having that, in different universes, represented as planets crashing into each other, rocks wearing googly eyes tumbling down a cliff after each other, and Evelyn pulling Jobu out of a literal black hole that could destroy everything in the multiverse. Somehow, a movie with gags involving butt plugs, dildos, hot dog fingers, and Ratatouille-knockoffs has managed to make me feel more seen that ever before in my life.
We’re imperfect, but we’re here, reaching out for each other across to avoid annihilation. Doing laundry and taxes and fucking up and crying screaming throwing up, but it’s being here. This is, after all, a life.
I ended my trip to Boston without visiting my old college campus. At some point on the trip, I abandoned that plan, realizing that you don’t have to confront every single thing that’s broken you. A place is a place and is just that; that’s a fact.
Another fact: I don’t have to prove my worthiness to an institution that did not love me.
And another: The people who do love me, they do it without expectation. I love them, too.
One last one: If they can do that, why can’t I? Gotta start somewhere, like putting down jumbled thoughts down on a piece of paper. Might as well start by buying the sandwich I’ve been craving since I went back home.
Currently I’m working on finishing up a new full-length, SPRAWL, with the wonderful folks over at The Workshop Theater as part of their Spring 2022 Workshop Intensive. I previously developed Count Yourself Among the Lucky with them, and I’m excited to be a part of this kind and giving community once more. When I submitted it, I had this perception that it would be a straightforward comedy/sci-fi adventure, but I’ve been floored by the pathos that others see in my characters that I didn’t before.
In SPRAWL, Dee, a playwright struggling to write a play about the disappearance of Laurel, slowly finds themself lost within alternate universes where maybe Laurel didn’t die, or maybe she did and she came back, or she actually didn’t and she’s living her best life up North, or maybe Laurel is also a playwright and Dee’s mentor, or maybe she’s the one who got away. I’m writing it with the idea that Dee is the only character in the cast played by a single actor, while Laurel and the others are played by different people in each scene.
I don’t write play with resolutions. I don’t believe in happy endings, or sad endings, not like Americans do. I’m not quite sure how Dee’ll get from Point A to Point B, but all I know is that Point A is grief, and Point B is still grief, but with love present. Sometimes, an ending is simply a thought, the lull before you get up from the ground and keeping walking forward.
I am still learning to live with grief. I grieve the deaths in the family, the friendships that have ended extremely poorly in the past couple of years, my youth. I grieve the relationship I had with my family before I left for college. I grieve their version of me they loved before I came out to them in 2018. I grieve what could’ve been, those many universes where maybe I’m somewhat normal, and I’m not writing these newsletters, and maybe I did end up being a doctor or something that allows me live comfortably away from everything I grew up around.
But, for the meantime, I’ll keep trying. Sometimes being here and allowing yourself to do so is the kindest thing you can do for yourself.
recs for the month:
Everything Everywhere All the Time (2022) (duh)
True Stories (1986)
This House Has People In It (2016)
books / collections:
Gideon the Ninth by Tasmyn Muir
Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera
“Everything Everywhere All at Once Is a Rare Triumph” by Eileen Jones for Jacobin
“Yale Will Not Save You” by Esmé Weijun Wang for The Sewanee Review
I re-read every once in a while; an instrumental text in my life. I also thought about it while watching Everything Everywhere All at Once, as both reminded me of the history of mental illness in my family. What will save us? Love, baby.
“The Most Progressive and Perverse of Devo, According to Mark Mothersbaugh” by Devon Ivie for Vulture
“Riffing and Remixing: Regina N. Bradley and Charles Hughes in conversation” from Southern Cultures
love u!! i watched everything, everywhere, all at once last week and my feelings are so so similar, except i'm more of a Waymond/Jobu Tobaki combo. like, trying to see beauty and love everywhere while also somehow being incredibly cynical.....it's a time. i have so many complicated feelings about welles too. it's strange i know the institution doesn't love me back, but i feel like the earth does and that's what i miss. thank you for sharing!! and tbh inspiring me to start writing my thoughts too. <3333