Lightning flashes outside my window as an imaginary BluJay knocks on my door.
He asks me if I’ve seen death lately. I ask him how he found my address. He asks me to stop deflecting and answer the question. I look back at this giant BluJay, this blue ass bird from some African place, and I ask how he learned to talk. He looks back at my Black ass, from some African place, and he asks who taught me to hate myself.
Lately I haven’t felt amazing. I’ve been conflicted, tired. The headaches I wake up with take all day to go away. It’s like my life has become a Sisyphean attempt at erasure. Something I can’t recognize. Something giant and strange and blue as a bird’s ass from some African place.
I too often forget my place. I write poetry when the winds of change threaten to sweep me away. I too often feel like dying and I too often don’t tell it to anyone.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night coughing. I went to the George Floyd Memorial the other day and my friend gave me a succulent for my new place. She said here, this will help you breathe. I honored her gesture, I thanked her. She told me that this plant is one of the easiest to care for. I thanked her even more – because this plant will help me breathe and let me be me, which is to say: lazy.
The first time I tried to kill myself, I was…. Actually, I can’t talk about that. But all you need to know is I survived. And there is still a blue ass bird at my metaphorical doorstep, lingering over me, daring me to make the first move if I’m a real man. This bird could beat my ass. Chances are, he will. And chances are, he does.
When you live with existential pain, the past and the present are one and the same. The future a hopeless mess.
Pretty girl asked me the other day: you’re such a catch, how are you single?
I smiled nervously. If I was a little braver, or a little sadder, I would’ve said: chances are because I too often wake up feeling like it was a mistake to wake up. OR: feeling like I’m already dead, but somehow alive. OR: Feeling like life and death could be one and the same. But I refuse to act on or even entertain these thoughts. I know, because I’ve tried that before and me and suicide didn’t really work out.
I’m grateful for that. But these thoughts come back to knock on my door, like blue ass birds, from African ass places. They ask to borrow sugar and spices and everything nices and they never return what they take from me. The blue bird is plural now because it signifies everything that hurts inside me. It is the sum total of my childhood traumas, of my everyday traumas.
The bird is me, but I don’t see it as such. And so when cute girls ask me why I’m single, it’s best I respond with a nervous smile and a shrug. It’s best I don’t tell them the truth. Let them not see me at my worst, or my least. Let them not know my fear of intimacy, of commitment, of trusting others.
Most definitely don’t tell them that I dream of dying alone, and that the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had, and that when I WAKE up, it is almost always, if not in pain, then disappointment.
I live my life fighting to live my life. It’s hard to put that into terms most people can understand. If I had the energy, I wouldn’t even bother. It’s easier to say I’m working on living.
So I take my favorite books about dying or feeling like dying or feeling like life is not very worthwhile most of the time. I take those books to my favorite coffee shop where I order the same drink every time. I sit with my London Fog and my Claudia Rankine and I read dark ass bars about feeling like dying, but not actually wanting to die. Then I nod my head to the beat of our shared depression.
You get me, Claudia, you see me. And you make me feel less alone. And now I’m scribbling in my notebook, getting high as the London fog, or: low as the fog in Berkeley, or: something like happily. I’m writing bars responding to Claudia’s. I’m talking to her about what it feels like to wake up not quite alive. And I know she can’t hear me, but I know she knows what I mean. I guess this is what they mean when they say writers are in conversation with one another.
Her words keep me going when I am at my darkest. I reach for that Blue backed book, DON’T LET ME BE LONELY. Because I know Claudia won’t ever let me be lonely, and I know that Allah will always forgive me, so long as I am sincere, and I know that He will be there to pull me out of the depths of my darkness.
I find that darkness can sometimes only be lightened by more darkness. You need a darker darkness to help you find your way to the lightness. And you need to learn to be friends with blue ass birds that knock on your door from time to time. Give those bird asses a hug. Tell ‘em you love them, Or: at least that you don’t hate them, OR: at least that you know what it feels like to not want to be alive but to keep fighting because you remember that kid you met in Seattle who jumped off the Bainbridge Island bridge and survived.
You remember the drainage bags he held in his hands, the marks on his body, the regret in his eyes. You remember thinking: I can’t wait to get out this psych ward and eat some ice cream. Also: stay away from bridges. Also: if you see a blue ass bird telling you to make a life-exit, don’t listen. Pet it until it goes away. And hold on, because that’s all we can do. That is a mountain climb worth celebrating. That is a blue ass bird worth knowing.
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Said Shaiye is a Somali writer who calls Minneapolis home. He is an MFA Candidate & Graduate Instructor at the University of Minnesota. He has had work published or is forthcoming in Diagram, Rigorous, Dreginald, New South, and Muslim American Writers at Home Anthology. His debut book, Are You Borg Now?, is forthcoming from Really Serious Literature. He can be reached at www.saidshaiye.com.
featured photo and accompanying photos by Said Shaiye