Return From Oblivion

A decade ago I was a graduate student at the University of South Alabama majoring in English with a creative writing concentration. My main emphasis was poetry. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had yet to unlock the life experience inside myself necessary to be a great or even adequate writer.

The poems I wrote about my relationship with my brother during those years are hard for me to read now. My brother has autism and for many years I sublimated our childhood. I ignored the hard parts and romanticized them if I ever allowed myself to think about the bad at all. This romantic notion of glossing over events that were incredibly damaging to me as a child and later as a teen and the way I focused on it in my writing may be the reason my PTSD symptoms began while I was in graduate school.

I was finally looking at my childhood on paper.

A version of my childhood that was a silent bargain between my parents and me.

This is our story.

This is what we tell people.

Maybe my subconscious was trying desperately to tell me I was repeating what I was told to say in my poems.

With each fit. With each manic crying spell.

Tears taking hold of me in my bedroom.

Tears so forceful I fell to the ground in a parking lot. My head on the yellow bump at the end of the space like a pillow.

My subconscious was screaming “No! This is not your truth.” Tearing me apart with each flashback.

It took years for me to recognize my body was cluing me in to just how much I went through as a teenager.

My body was saying that taking beatings from your special needs sibling was not a sisterly duty.

My body was screaming that it was not okay for my parents to allow my brother to use pictures of me as masturbation fodder.

My body screamed as the list grew longer.

I didn’t get this at the time though. I just thought I was depressed. I thought I was still sad that my brother had to go live at the Regional Center. I felt like if I never left home he’d still be with my parents. I felt like I had failed him. I felt like my anti-depressants weren’t working, so I quit taking them. I felt out of control and I didn’t think I’d ever regain ownership of my emotions.

My tears.

My anguish.

Something buried deep in my brain was my master, and I lived to please it.

During this time I was drawn to a poem called The Wild Iris by Louise Glück. Here’s an excerpt from the poem. The parts that I read over and over again during an excruciating time in my life without really understanding what the words actually meant to me.

At the end of my suffering

there was a door.


You who do not remember

passage from the other world

I tell you I could speak again: whatever

returns from the oblivion returns

to find a voice:

from the center of my life came

a great fountain, deep blue

shadows on azure seawater.

When I read these words now, I get why I clinged to them so long ago. I picked up Glück’s book today and found the passages underlined. Underlined by the hands of a woman suffering. Underlined by the woman I was a decade ago.

I feel like I was meant to see this today. Like my past self left this reminder. A time capsule of my desperation to understand the pain.

At the end of my suffering

there was a door.

Ten years later I’ve walked through the door. Through therapy and hard work I’ve unlocked perspective and thrown away the key. I’ve returned from oblivion.


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