Another Open Letter

Content Warning: Discussion of suicide and grief

 

 

 

It feels like every morning I wake up and something new has happened to shake me to the core.

Carleton College is a private institution of higher learning. It is deeply flawed in many ways. It is still struggling with a past rooted in racism. It is still working to provide justice to those who have been sexually assaulted on campus. It is still a long way from being an equitable community.

But it is also full of some of the best students, administrators, and professors in the world. I am so grateful to have met some of these beautiful people.

There are some who I never got the chance to meet.

In my junior year, Paxton Harvieux, Michael Goodgame, and James Adams were killed in a car accident. I did not know any of them well, but over the next three years, I came to know them through the people they left behind.

This past year, Zach Mitchell was taken by cancer at the age of twenty-two. I had a few conversations with Zach. One of them I’ll never forget, we were out in the prairie the summer of 2014 and he told me about being diagnosed while studying abroad in New Zealand. I remember being amazed with how open he was and how positive and vibrant he was. I still wish I had something as genuine to give back to him.

This morning, another Carleton student died. I did not know Sid Ramakrishnan. I will never meet him now. I have no doubt that he was a being as human and wonderful as the rest of us. And I have no doubt that this is another wound opened in the already bleeding heart of a community I love.

I have no words to tell you how to feel. No words to tell you what to do with this loss. I only know that I love you. Absolutely and fully. And if there is anything I can do, I will do it. I know that the ways we cope with grief are not always “healthy” or “normal”. And I don’t really care about those labels. I just want you to take care of yourself and to know that you aren’t alone.

I wish I had said it sooner. I wish I could say it more.

You are not alone. You are loved. You are enough.

There are times when the world shrinks. And all you can see is the promise of relief, an escape from the pain and the fear and the shame . But there is a corner, and I promise you, I promise you, you are about to turn it. And the world on the other side is really beautiful, if you can just hold on.

For many months last year, and on and off again through the last six years of my life, I have struggled with depression. Sometimes it is set off by particularly stressful events. Sometimes it just sneaks up on its own.

I have attempted suicide twice and I stopped keeping track of how many times I’ve considered it a long time ago.

It is not something that I control. It is not something that is my fault. It is not something that I need to feel ashamed of. It is my brain releasing different levels of serotonin and dopamine.

If you have also struggled with depression and suicidal ideation know this: it is not your fault. It is not something you need to feel ashamed of. It is your brain releasing different levels of serotonin and dopamine.

That doesn’t make it suck less. It doesn’t make your pain less real, but it isn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything to deserve it.

And don’t listen to people who don’t understand. Don’t listen if they describe people with depression as “weird” or “too much”. Don’t listen if they say you’re being needy or that you’re doing it for attention. Don’t listen to those people because they have no idea what they are talking about.

Listen to me.

You are not alone. You are loved. You are enough.

There aren’t any words I can say to bring back the people you have lost. The only thing I have to offer is this thought, it’s weird and out there, but so is life:

If you are thinking of someone, then their memory is triggering neuronal cascades in your brain. These neuronal pathways trigger chemical, that is to say physiological, that is to say physical reactions. That means that when you think about someone, they really are still there with you. They are in your heart beat, they are in your breath, they are with you.

They are always going to be with you.

 

 

Oaklandic

I’ve recently accepted the position of barista at the esteemed Blue Bottle Coffee Company. I am now officially too hipster to exist. I need to go out and buy a beanie. And grow a mustache. And probably wear at least seven bow-ties at any given point.

And I’ll also now be speaking about mouth-feel and fruit-forwardness. You’re welcome world.

Long story short: now that I’m a barista, I’m too cool to use the term Oaklandish. So I’m making my own term: Oaklandic. Again, you’re welcome.

So, I moved to Oakland about three weeks ago. Crazy world. Crazy life. I still don’t really believe that I’m living in California. Living out my exact dream of being a barista and getting free coffee and also being able to write. I feel like at any moment someone’s going to swoop down from the sky and sirens will go off and they’ll put me under arrest for being too darn happy all the time.

Until that day comes, though, let me talk to you about Oakland.

I am straight up in love with this place. I love San Francisco, too, don’t worry. OH MAN DO I LOVE SAN FRANCISCO. But that’s a different sort of love.

San Francisco is that quirky person your parents absolutely adore. San Francisco always shows up on time for every date. And they cook you meals. And yeah, sometimes they shout crazy things at your window, but at the end of the day they mostly just want to cuddle.

Oakland is the person who always smells like marijuana and is constantly talking about weird stuff from their childhood and they maybe steal twenties from your purse if you aren’t careful, but they’re so damn real and they love you so damn much that you can’t really say no to their apologies. Oakland is the person you hate to love and love to hate.

Oakland is the sound of gunfire in the night that turns out to be fireworks.And fireworks that turn out to be gunfire.

Oakland is the kitten with the broken neck dead in the road.

Oakland is the smoke from the taqueria down the street and kids walking to school in their heavy navy uniforms.

Oakland is the chuckling of roosters at six in the morning. And five. And four.

Oakland is a children’s coloring book scrawled with swear words.

Oakland is seeing “Justice for Oscar Grant” spray-painted on the sidewalk and taking the BART from the station where he was murdered.

Oakland is your neighbors yelling at one another across the street and then offering to let you use their hand cart.

Oakland is an independent press featuring local artists and its old men speaking in Spanish about the wonders of Zumba.

Oakland is all the beautiful things, all the horrible things, all the worlds and places and none of them, a city all its own.

My whole life I’ve never really known where I belong. I didn’t belong in Indiana. I didn’t quite belong in Minnesota. I was only ever a visitor in Wisconsin. But Oakland feels like home. It’s rough and weird and scary and flawed and deep in its core, it loves. And what can one do but return love when you find it?