A Night In Late March.
Artwork By Emma Darvick.
I had always imagined rock bottom to be this sort of inward crumble, which must be why I thought I had arrived there multiple times in the past year.
“This is it...this HAS to be it” I’d whisper to myself as I pressed my forehead against the cool metal of the bathroom stall door at the restaurant I worked at.
Surprise, surprise-- I was wrong.
Time has taught me that the journey to rock bottom is an absolutely slow, painful crumble inwards. It feels endless, chaotic and utterly exhausting and probably if you think you're at the bottom you've got several hundred more feet to fall. What I didn’t understand was that once you get there, to the bottom, you suddenly feel your feet firmly on the ground. You’re down there looking up- on one side is the despair, on the other side is a clean slate. Endless potential.
Rock bottom is the moment the despair turns into lessons, and the climb back up is when the lessons turn into stories.
A long, uphill, deliberate climb.
I don’t remember the exact date my feet hit the ground, but I do remember it was a night in late March.
I remember because it was one of those days where you could get away without wearing gloves but once the sun went down you wish you had brought them with you. The pocket didn’t quite cut it yet.
It was one of those nights where it was still getting dark early but small talk now included comments about how late the sun was going down.
The seasons were changing.
There was a shift happening.
On that night in late March, there was an almost silent explosion.
I had invited myself up to the 28th floor where I had once felt at home with the intention of working my way down to the bottom of a bottle of bourbon just as I had done almost a year before.
An act of pure self-destruction.
Self-inflicted emotional pain.
I wasn’t expecting to get what I got.
It was my first time back up to the apartment in the sky since I ran away.
I met Him in the lobby and we hugged awkwardly. We rode up in the elevator together just as we had done the year before. Back then the silence between us was comfortable and worn in like your favourite pair of jeans. Now the silence sat between us, heavy, like a ghost.
I shouldn’t be here.
Seemingly, nothing had changed. The light. The smell. The pictures I had hung.
It was a time machine.
My stomach tightened.
What are you doing here?
All the hard work I had been doing focusing on ‘what’s next’ went out the window. All I could see was what I gave up.
I walked in and saw her right away.
My beloved Aloe Vera plant I had left behind.
I kept my coat and shoes on and walked directly over to her.
“What the hell….” I said as I stroked one of her stems.
“I know.” he said proudly “Isn’t she huge now? She likes it up here in the sun”
I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. She had spent the entirety of her life with us on death's door, and it was not for lack of trying on our part. We would move her to different parts of the house depending on the time of day. We would water her just the right amount, we’d talk to her and try and make her laugh, but still, she never thrived.
She also never died.
“You should replant her soon.” I told him.
“I know! Hey...If you buy the new pot, I’ll consider that your child support.”
I turned around and looked at him.
He meant nothing by it of course.
It was a joke, you idiot.
He handed me a drink and smiled. I smiled back as a courtesy.
I took my coat and shoes off and sat on the couch. The couch that used to be in my parents living room. The couch they gave us when we moved here to start our new life on. I had spent many Christmas’ on this couch. I sat with my grandfather on this couch.
You’re being sensitive.
I needed to get him talking, which was thankfully always easy to do.
He had a list the length of his arm of interesting adventures, successes, and anecdotes to catch me up on. I sat and drank and obsessed over Alice while he talked. The more he talked the more he smiled. He did that thing he does where he looks off into the distance while regaling me with stories about workplace politics as if pulling it from an imaginary vault filled with all the stories he’d been wanting to share with me.
I poured another drink.
There had been a review in the Globe and Mail for some artistic work he had done- it wasn’t a great review and he was embarrassed by it. I was able to spin it, lift him up, remind him of his greatness. We cheers-ed to the fact that he had made it into the Globe after only being in the city for just over a year
The greatest role I ever played was that of his caretaker.
I poured another drink.
I could tell he wanted to know why I was there. He wasn’t stupid, I wasn’t merely in the neighbourhood looking to catch up, he could see that there was a motive. It was written across my forehead.
‘Robin’ had become synonymous with ‘complicated’.
Earlier in the day, I had found out I hadn’t gotten a job that would have changed my life. It would have meant no more waitressing, no more tedious days at the bakery, no more 75 hour work weeks and endless doubles. It would have meant eight hour sleeps and free time. I was so sure I had gotten the job. I had done seven interviews, I had spent many late nights preparing for each of them in the few hours between shifts at the bakery and restaurant. I thought I was about to get the long anticipated ‘win’ I had been hoping for.
The ‘win’ I’d been working for.
But I didn’t get it. I was still trapped in a cycle of overworked, underpaid, unstimulating, exhausted misery. Not to be dramatic or anything....
I poured another drink.
Instead of talking about it, I kept bringing the conversation back to him and Alice.
"I just can't believe how green she is... so healthy. She's gorgeous."
I felt dizzy when I looked at her. I couldn’t help but see the same growth in him.
What had happened? Was it what he said-- was it the sunlight up here? Or was it the fresh start?
It was my idea to move. It was my idea to go up to the 28th floor.
It was my idea to leave them behind.
There it was.
The bomb was set to go off.
My supposedly selfish choices had just been justified. The reasoning people had been demanding from me- the reason I couldn’t come up with, handed to me. By a plant.
I had left them suddenly and with no excuse. I had been wracking my brain over and over again about why I had done it. It was suddenly abundantly clear.
When mixed with him, I became toxic.
You couldn’t smell it or taste it, but if you came in contact with it- it was lethal.
I had been a drug for him, he was convinced he needed me. On this night in late March, it was obvious the withdrawal had finally subsided. Here he was now, this gorgeous, self-assured, confident man.
Clean of me.
Here I was. I had devolved into a pathetic, desperate, exhausted puddle of complicated, contradictory emotions.
I was becoming a raisin.
I hadn’t even had a period in 10 months from “physical and emotional stress on the body”.
I was actually shutting down.
The cracks were starting to show through the armour that we both thought was impenetrable.
The long days on my feet.
The guilt from selfish choices I mad.e
The stress from the consequences of self-destructive behaviour.
The grief left over from my grandfather’s death.
The paralyzing sense of loneliness I carried with me everywhere.
I was worn out.
I looked at Him and Alice.
You shouldn’t be here. You’re hurting them.
My eyes welled. I thanked him for the bourbon and I grabbed my coat.
“I’m going to get an uber.”
“Uh. Okay. Everything okay?”
“Yeah, no. I’m fine.”
Tears started falling from my face.
“Yup. This was nice. Thanks for the chat. And all the bourbon.”
My knees felt weak.
“Okay. Take care of yourself.”
“I’m fine.” I said sharply. Unnecessarily. “Take care of Alice…. bye Alice, be good.”
He went in for a hug.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
I ran out as fast as I could, and rode the elevator back down- it was a familiar scene.
I hopped into the Uber and headed home.
I sat in the back seat of the stranger's car and tightened every muscle in my body. I squeezed my eyes shut. I tried to disappear.
It was useless. I couldn’t hide. It was impossible to deny my flesh and bones- there was a person in here.
Where is she?
I was losing.
I was a fraud.
Keep your shit together.
People kept telling me I was brave. That was bullshit. I was never not terrified.
My family would say they were proud.
Of what? I have nothing. I am nothing.
My breath was shortening.
I got out of the Uber and stumbled my way up the walkway. The bourbon made me feel warm… hot. My hands were shaking and tears were streaming down my face. I walked up the stairs and went straight to my room, I didn’t want my roommate to get caught up in the explosion.
I opened my bedroom door and turned on the light.
I walked into a scene I wasn't expecting.
My bed was surrounded by five giant plants. There was nowhere to move. The crying seized.
The universe was officially fucking with me.
The plant closest to me had a note sitting on top of it.
“I’m sorry you didn’t get the job. Love, Marina”
I stared at the plants.
Tick. Tick. Boom.
My feet hit the ground.
I made it.
My chest cracked open. My knees gave out and I slid down the wall. My body released. The tension vanished. I sobbed. There’s no cute way to describe it.
It wasn’t poetic, it was primal.
Marina heard me and rushed in. She found me on the floor. She sat on the edge of the bed and said nothing. She didn’t have to. She must have seen this coming for months. She rubbed my back and reminded me to breathe every so often.
It lasted probably only five or six minutes. That’s all it took to get it out. The dust started to settle. I laid with my cheek pressed against the cool floor and breathed and stared at the plants.
It was a nice perspective of the world from down there. I looked up at the plants, I felt like I was in the forest.
“Where did this come from... the job?” she asked.
“No. The plant.”
I let out a small laugh.
“The fucking plant...”
The laugh erupted from deep within.
“The fucking plant...”
It was so stupid. I couldn’t help but laugh.
I had been searching everywhere for answers all year. I was navigating complicated emotions and relationships and desperately seeking meaning in it all. Finally, after months of searching, I got what I was looking for.
I had to go back to the source. I had to stare my past in the face to understand. How did I not see that earlier?
I had done the right thing and everyone was going to survive… in fact, everyone was going to be better than before. Even me.
Stronger than before. Happier than before... all because I took action. I made the hard choice of acknowledging what neither of us wanted to see.
I was brave. I was something to be proud of.
I removed myself from them and cured the toxic mess we were living in. Alice wore her changes on the outside, it was much more subtle in Him and I.
I felt my feet hit the bottom. I looked up. On one side of me was everything I experienced stacked up- the other side was a fresh wall for me to start my climb up. It was high and it was straight up- it was going to take a lot of work and stamina. I could just barely see the light crack through the top, but it was undeniably bright up there.
I took some time at the bottom. I relished it. It felt secure to be down there. It was nice to sit in the dark. The best part about being at the bottom is once you’re down there it’s impossible to fall any further.
I spent one week down there. I called in sick. I laid in bed too long, I didn’t get dressed. I obsessed over Alice.
Then suddenly it was April.
I remember the exact date. April 1st.
I remember because you don’t ever forget the day your despair becomes your story.
I woke up early and made coffee. I wrapped a blanket around my head and shoulders and opened my laptop. I sat there for eight hours and I wrote.
I wrote about Him and Alice.
I had started the climb back up but I made sure to look over my shoulder before I got too far to not see it anymore. I didn’t belong down there, but I had to get there in order to see the light.
I'm still climbing.
I'm not sure we ever fully get to the top. There are days the climb feels easy, but there are just as many days where I feel my grip slip and my footing gets uneven.
That's life, ain't it?
It's comforting to know that the bottom is there and there's nothing to worry about if we find ourselves there.
It's comforting to know that it's solid down there.
It's comforting to know that despair will always, eventually, become our story.