Disclosure: Writing for Understanding
Guest post by Juan Ruiz
This post only appears in English / Este post solo está en inglés.
I realize now that I’m the lucky one.
My father sits exiled in the Dominican Republic, comfortable and confident in his Christianity—a worldview about which I’ve had many derisive and dismissive things to say. My uncle wanders about Washington Heights, lost in his own delusions, often seeming lost in a sort of psychological and emotional hell. My brother sits in prison yet again, where he has spent most of his life for the last ten years. Society deemed him unfit for freedom—with good reason.
I’m the lucky one it turns out. I only had to flirt with losing my mind. I only had to pass through the forest of despair and despondency, whereas others have lived there for quite a while. My uncle and my brother are still lost, it seems to me.
I was lucky because I made it out. Not everyone does. At my deepest darkest parts it wasn’t clear that I would ever make it out.
I sat at the base of the George Washington bridge, by the water. The tide was low. I had gone for a run, hoping to get back in shape after a long winter. The view of the sky behind the bridge was pretty. I took out my phone to capture a photo of it, but the front camera was on and I caught my own face in the screen.
My eyes were set deeply into my thin face, encased by dark circles. My neck was thin. I quickly smiled. I could only produce a brittle and insincere smile. The corners of my eyes never gathered in a crease. I pressed for the other camera. I needed to hide from myself.
I wasn’t even at my emotional worst at that moment. In the months prior I had weathered some vicious emotional storms. At that moment under the bridge I thought myself to be on the way up to health and happiness.
Yet there I had stood hiding from my own reflection. Nowhere could I see the liveliness I had once had—the vigor, the quiet confidence, the thoughtfulness in my eyes. I was a different person. And I wasn’t sure that the real me could ever come back.
Under the bridge that day I thought to myself that if I never make it back I might as well fucking kill myself.
I’m the lucky one because I made it out.
I wish I could say that the dark place from which I had escaped—climbed out of, worked tirelessly to be free from—was an imaginary place. But it was not.
It’s real. To call it a psychological state is not enough. It’s not just sadness or depression. When the whole world falls apart in disorder and chaos—when all ofyour relationships are shit and there is no obvious way to fix your situation—it’s not fair to call it a mere psychological state.
The Terror of Truth
My uncle is there right now, without a doubt. But he doesn’t know it. He has deceived others and himself (but mostly himself) for so long that he can no longer tell the difference between the real and unreal, truth and untruth.
We—his family and society—are to believe, as he presumably does, that he does not have substance abuse issues.
Delusions of this magnitude and severity are maintained by the lies on his part, but they are enabled by the cowardice of everyone else.
My uncle doesn’t do conflicts, and he doesn’t do personal questions. A pointed question is deflected with laughter. Persistent questioning is deflected with a leave of absence until the heat subsides. In this way he trains the people on how to engage with him. Most of the time it doesn’t register consciously for them. But they are subtly trained. Ask questions and he disappears. Apply pressure and he disappears.
The Weight of Freedom
My brother, it seems to me, has once again collapsed beneath the weight of freedom, or the appearance of it. He has defaulted into a world he knows best: prison. For him, the outside world is far too dangerous. It’s far too unknown and out of reach for a person like him. Out there lies temptation. Out there lies expectations.
He is expected to walk amongst the meek school boys, the suits, the clever cowards and play the game on their terms. Success is what they are good at. Aggression has been re-formatted to fit their terms. It’s passive. It’s verbal. But that’s how society works, with good reason.
He is expected to have left the prison system without the set of behaviors that protected him, without the ethics of prison deeply programmed into his being. He is expected to do the grueling, soul-wrenching emotional work of sorting himself out amongst a population who could never understand him.
I understand our (and society’s) impatience and lack of understanding. I understand the impulse to view any understanding of his situation on my part as being a sort of tacit endorsement of the man and the actions for which he was imprisoned.
Within the Bounds of Liberation
My father lives carefully within the bounds of Christianity. I am sure that he lived many years in the depths of the forest. He spent 15 years in prison. That’s where he found his faith. I’ll admit this though, that I’m quick to call his religious convictions delusional, but there is a part of me that wonders if he is actually the lucky one. But I then quickly recall the consequences of self-deception and delusion.
Certainly my father is not where my brother and uncle are. Christianity, it seems to me, has given him a way of thinking about and shooing away the darkness that plagues them. The hell in which they live is very real for my father.
The Pain of Understanding
For a brief moment years ago I fell for the lure of trying to change my world with substances, and for a briefer moment still I found myself waist-deep in a sort of religious delusion. So I’m unable to write any of these people off because in them I see a bit of myself.
Maybe we share commonalities by dint of kinship. Or maybe I’m growing in my capacity to empathize with others before writing them off as sorry sons of bitches.
I write about these things for understanding, however painful that may be.