My best friend, the DJ, had a best friend, another DJ, Angel(not his real name). Angel was good-looking, talented, sweet–and dying of AIDS. A few weeks before his death, Angel made one last mix tape which he called, “The Anguish.” He gave out 5 copies: one to my best friend, three to DJ friends, and one to another friend. My best friend played it in my car many years ago. It spoke to our mutual blues. He told me the story so I listened closely to the melodies and lyrics, how sad and poignant they were, in light of Angel’s imminent death. Then my best friend left the tape in my car.
Despite what I knew, or actually because of it, I made a copy of the tape before returning it to the DJ. There was something precious about Angel’s last mix. Here was pain, tangible, semi-permanent. Here was Angel, who was beneath ground long before I met the DJ, but still a powerful presence. In fact, after I got my own copy of “The Anguish,” I can swear Angel came to me a few times, if only as a sudden chill in the car or a feeling of someone behind me. It’s been years since I’ve listened to the mix but I always think of it.
Now, I’m not dying. But I am depressed. Still. I have returned to the Catholic Planet and I am hoping as I acclimate to its atmosphere, I will shake the cloud over me. I was better for a few days and then yesterday, I sank back into the depths, into my own anguish. I feel guilty because I have it all, or almost all. I have youth and beauty(yes, despite my bouts of self-hatred, I look in the mirror these days and see a pretty girl, not a classic beauty, but an indigenous woman, beautiful and earthy like my grandmother and my foremothers.) I have success and accomplishments. I have a loving family and loyal friends. And, unfortunately, like a mystic, I have the ability to make my own heart want to stop beating.
My new doctor pointed out that I have two problems to resolve in my new program of therapy: my romantic issues and my depression. I used to see them as one and the same or at least intertwined. Upon reflection, I see that I have carried my sadness ever since I was small. I remember sitting in the backyard when we lived in the ghetto part of the Stack and looking at the green grass with tear-filled eyes. I remember sitting on the curb near the elementary school, crying without sobbing, staring into the distance, hoping to see Mami running down the street, as I waited for her to pick me up from kindergarten, as the kindly crossing guard assured me that I would be okay. Mami took ELD classes at the Language Center a few bus stops away and she would have to get my toddler brother from the preschool before rushing to get me. She remembers it, too, and I can tell she feels guilt, after all these decades. One vivid detail I remember is one day we had made construction paper candles with waxy yellow crayon flames. The candle began to droop in my moist palm as I clutched it in my right hand, my favorite red scarf in my left as I rubbed my fists on my face. In my mind, I thought that maybe I wasn’t important enough for Mami to be on time. I was five years old and already my mind was convincing me that the love anyone could be feeling for me wasn’t all that strong.
I cry now as I remember that feeling because it’s the feeling that always returns. It is the feeling that I allow to take over my entire being whenever I am scared or anxious. My doctor says it is my extreme stress reaction and she is right. It’s like a reverse game of possum. I start to die even before the threat arrives. I tell myself to stop living because I am afraid of abandonment. I am afraid I am not lovable.
This is programming. It can be changed. While life experience has taught me that love is fraught with confusion, fear, and the threat of finality, I know that I can be loved. Sometimes I am full of the love around me. Other days, like yesterday, I am clutching that candle and waiting.
*Angel, watch over me. Love me the way you loved my best friend. Give me your strength.