Part One: The diary of Margot Elise Donker

Everyday I walk on broken glass.  Creating a more disheveled version of myself with the jagged pieces.  Edges sharp enough for an incision, but far too dull to make any real damage.  Sweating under the pressure to get it right.  The pressure of being good enough, not really realizing I am good as I am.

And what is it that makes me feel all the things I do.  The single blade of glass? The trepidation in the soul of the old man sitting by himself?  Such situations fill my eyes with a salient solution, and drift my lids downward, to cover up the fact that I am sad.  That I hurt from the inside.  That I exist at all.

Will I remain perfectly unbalanced?  Between walking everyday on broken glass and feeling everything with extreme intensity…I’m not sure if I am imaginary walking among you, or just a warbling human being sure of only one thing.  That my unbalanced way of being is a calling unlike anyone else’s.

What I know is; I fill this space.  My space.  For a reason.  I am here.  For a reason.  And though I am uncomfortable most of the time, and quirky all of my life, I am present the best way I know how to be.  It matters who stays.  It matters who I allow in to this world.  Not who cast me aside, nor who fails to be of open mind.

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Anew

The kettle whistles like a siren.  I watch the steam vaporize in the fearful atmosphere, as I pour the scalding water into two mugs.  As if she’d saunter through the arched doorway, unmarred.  Ready for her Chai tea and honey.  But she’s not coming back.  She’s in some faraway place, where spirits graze and darkness falls heavy.  And guilt rises in me with quick pumps of blood, because there is a part of me that feels relief now that she is gone.  Like I can start anew.

October 19, 1965

Nothing is as deafening as the sound of silence; except, maybe, for the sound of your heart beating, its echo filling your eardrums with a slow thumping and nothing else,” Ruth whispered to herself. She laid in a numb state. Her quilt scrunched up under her chin. Quietly she spanned the ceiling for shadows that didn’t exist. An all too consuming silence filled every nook and crevice of her room. Not even the sound of the autumn waves on Lake Catherine could express the emptiness. She wanted desperately to stay in bed, to not face another dreadful day. But life must go on, or so they say.

It was October 19, 1965. Ruth had just had her 49th Birthday a week earlier. That day was filled with friends, family, and masks of all kind, pretending there wasn’t anyone missing. But there was. Ruth and Howard’s eldest daughter, Marie, was staying at a convent in Texas waiting for her baby to arrive. Marie was 23, unwed, and under prepared to be giving birth. By the time October 19th approached, like a head on collision you couldn’t avoid, the baby boy was already given up for adoption.

Their youngest daughter, Amy, was 16. She felt abandoned by her older sister, left to fend for herself in a house of madness. Their mother’s dire mental state lay in pieces, like ill fitted puzzle pieces left lying around, not belonging together, but coerced into place.

Marie’s scandal kicked up dark clouds of shame and indignity that now swirled around the family, leaving a stench of uncertainty and depression especially for Ruth.

Tornados of emotion spun through the house. And yet a day or two before, Amy had peered into her mother’s bright blue eyes and saw a calm, stoic gaze. She could never tell which mother she was going to get. One minute Ruth would be frantically painting the doorknobs gold on a high of creative juices, and the next you’d find her comatose in a pile of rust and yellow leaves somewhere in the backyard. Ruth’s mood swings were unpredictable and frightening.

On that morning of October 19, 1965, Amy and Ruth had had an argument about the upcoming homecoming dance. Amy’s dress, a beautiful light green bodice with a darker green velvet skirt, needed mending. Her mother was supposed to have it done by the weekend. But Ruth, overwhelmed with intense emptiness, forgot about the dress altogether. She told Amy to ask her Grandma Mattie to do it. She wasn’t going to have time.

Amy left the house in a huff, as teenagers often do, without kissing her mother on the cheek goodbye.

A rush of pink came over Ruth. The house was quiet. Knitting needles tapped off beat in the background, as her mother Mattie was knitting a blanket for the baby that would never come.

Mattie announced that she needed more yarn, and asked Ruth if she needed anything from the store. Ruth stared vacantly out the kitchen window, through the billowing trees, onto the beach in the distance. Lake Catherine was alive with waves, and Ruth was mesmerized by its white crests. Her thoughts, covered in seaweed, were carried away with each crest, and then drowned where the water remained calm. Wearily she shook her head indicating she needed nothing.

Mattie patted her daughter on the shoulder, gave her an encouraging squeeze, and whispered gently “We’re going to be okay.”

Mattie put on her fox fur collared, brown wool coat, and ventured out. The metal screen door screeched shut behind her.

The sound broke the gloomy silence for a second. Ruth palmed her husband’s shot glass. His bottle of Ten High Whiskey sat half full in its rightful place. She rubbed her thumb against the cool beveled letters, toying with the notion of drinking the rest of the bottle. The rich caramel color looked so inviting. But she settled on one shot for courage.

The warmth of the liquid inflamed her throat. The pain made her feel somewhat human. Before, the pain felt invisible, but now there was a burning that made everything feel real. She let out an exasperated cough and fell to her knees sobbing. The mask came off.

Ruth lifted her unsteady body, walked out the front entrance, letting the screen door flap aggressively in the rushing wind. The skirt of her knee length, navy blue dress twirled upward, showing a white ruffled slip underneath. Ruth carefully walked along the cracked cement sidewalk, arms folded in front of her, to the detached garage. A pile of rust and yellow leaves rustled with the breeze, whispering, “We’re going to be okay.” But Ruth didn’t believe them…it wasn’t.

She rummaged through a grease-stained box her husband kept of winter car care accessories. She gripped tightly to the cold tow chain and dragged it heavily behind her. The chain clamored against each obstructing surface it met, echoing through the empty house, and down the eerie steps to the musty basement. The distinct smell mingled sweetly with the lavender pouches she kept in her dress pockets.

Ruth stopped in front of the old 1920’s slot machine her husband had bought for $50 from a friend who needed money. She put a nickel in its slot. “If I get all lemons, I won’t go through with it.”

She pulled the lever to her fate. Lemon. Lemon. Plum.

Ruth slung the chain over the overhead beam, and created a noose. Nothing is as deafening as the sound of silence; except, maybe, for the sound of your heart beating for the last time, its echo filling your eardrums with a slow thump and nothing else.” Ruth whispered her last words to herself.

A Piece of Dust

“[The Bell Jar is] an autobiographical apprentice work,

which I had to write in order to free myself from the past.”

(The Bell Jar (biographical notes) – Page 213)

I met Esther Greenwood, from Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar, when I was twenty. I don’t know exactly how we became friends, but we did. It was fate. It was as if Sylvia Plath and I knew each other completely, in another lifetime, and Esther was created on my behalf.

I had never met mental illness face to face before Esther. Except for in my own reflection in the mirror. Her story struck me to tears. I related to Esther when I couldn’t relate to anyone else. She explained my emotional struggles and feelings of mediocrity with a prolific simplicity I hadn’t encountered before.

“I felt myself melting into the shadows like the

negative of a person I’d never seen before in my life.”

(The Bell Jar – Plath – Page 8)

My feelings of nothingness and loneliness, that I had dealt with since birth finally had a partner who understood. We were on the same journey of self-discovery, and understanding the place we held within an ever-changing world.

My condition finally had a name, Depression. My poetry finally held truth. I now knew poetry wasn’t just a piece of dust. Poetry held structure to the infinite accumulation of shadows I held on to like friends.

“I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be

shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow.

There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and

shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of

people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles of it, on the night

side of the earth.” (The Bell Jar – Plath – Page 120)

My writing efforts paid off. I was discovered as a real poet. Not just writing poetry for the therapy of it, hidden in some shadowy corner of my room, but an honest poet. I read at local poetry readings, and had a book of poetry distributed at my community college. My writing mentor, Dr. Robert Sanborn, encouraged me and likened me to Sylvia Plath, as my journal entries were poetic and prolific. Of course I didn’t believe him. Any positive accomplishment, as far as my writing was concerned, was a fluke. But at least I had finally found something to identify with. I was a writer.

Prone to being provoked, neither Esther nor I had the knack for quick comebacks. We would be faced with an argument, or pushed into debate, and our cleverness would be replaced with daftness. We sometimes, hesitatively, agreed or just said nothing to the contents contrary because our mouths and minds went dry. But days later we would replay such conversations in our heads, leading to the cleverest and most astute comebacks no one would ever hear.

“These conversations I had in my mind usually

repeated the beginnings of conversations I’d had with Buddy,

only they finished with me answering him back

quite sharply, instead of just sitting around and saying, ‘I guess so.’”

(The Bell Jar – Plath – Page 46)

Like me, Esther did not fit into a mold of womanhood that society deemed acceptable, or the one they deemed unacceptability for that matter. We were plain and adequate. We didn’t draw attention by our aesthetics like Esther’s friend Doreen. A person had to dig deep into our psyche to find our true beauty. We rejected the idea of falling in love, marriage, and the double standard that men could do but women should not do, due to virtue.

“I couldn’t stand the idea of a woman having to have a single

pure life and a man being able to have a double life, one pure and one not”

(The Bell Jar – Plath – Page 66)

Nonetheless, there was still a part of Esther and I that desired being desirable. We had wild dreams of exotic worthy men falling deeply in love with us, taking us around the world and back, until we were tired of them. Instead we met all the same hypocrites, women-haters, and weasels. Which for me included my father.

“I began to see why woman-haters could make such fools of women.

Woman-haters were like gods: invulnerable and chock-full of power.

They descended, and then they disappeared. You could never catch one.”

(The Bell Jar – Plath – Page 88)

Esther and I faced fatherly abandonment issues, as did Plath. We never got the chance to fully develop connective relationships with our fathers. The presence of a prominent male role model was very nearly vacant. Plath’s father, Otto, died when she was eight years old. He was a scholarly fellow, but according to speculations, he was a bit of a brute with tendencies toward adultery. In The Bell Jar Plath rewrote the role of her father. She wrote Esther’s father as a scholarly man just like her real life dad, only without brute tendencies and infidelity. She of course was his favorite.

“I had a great yearning, lately, to pay my father back for

all the years of neglect, and start tending his grave.

I had always been my father’s favorite, and it seemed fitting

I should take on a mourning my mother had never bothered with.”

(The Bell Jar – Plath – Page 135)

My parents divorced on April 16, 1983, just before my eighth birthday. My father cheated on my mom with several different women. When I was six, I was playing office on the kitchen desk. I picked up the ringing phone by accident and the woman on the other end said hello. She asked for my dad. Being the momma’s girl that I was I handed the receiver immediately to my mother. All color drained from her face. I will never forget the tears welling in her eyes, but never falling…at least not in front of me.

“I could feel the tears start to spurt from the

screwed-up nozzles of my eyes”

(The Bell Jar – Plath – Page 122)

For years I imagined my father was dead, or didn’t ever exist, to get through the void of a father figure. But he was alive and fully functioning right down the street at his parent’s house. We barely saw him when he lived with us, and I can’t say I missed him. What I can say is…a consistent positive male entity would have been of great support.

I’ve avoided the subject of suicide, until now, on purpose. You may ask, did I contemplate suicide and attempt to commit suicide like Esther Greenwood?

“Cobwebs touched my face with the softness of moths.

Wrapping my black coat round me like my own sweet

shadow, I unscrewed the bottle of pills and started

taking them swiftly, between gulps of water, one by one by one.”

(The Bell Jar – Plath – Page138)

The answer is: I had had suicidal ideations, but never went as far as attempting. I didn’t necessarily want to die; I more or less wished I were never born. I wished I didn’t FEEL so much all the time. I wished I didn’t THINK so much all the time. I wanted to actually be the numb nothing I thought I was. I could never have gone through with the act of suicide, for I couldn’t disappoint my mother or make her feel that loss again. My grandmother suffered from depression, and committed suicide when my mom was sixteen. This family secret was only revealed to me, when I was twenty, and reading The Bell Jar.

When we were asked, in class, to read The Bell Jar, I remembered that it was one of my top five favorite books. Rereading it was like a reunion of kindred souls reminiscing together, and trying to play catch-up. I had spent the ten years between now and then, ignoring my faith in writing and repressing the individual I truly was inside just to live a somewhat “normal” life. The truth was that I already knew who I was back then, and I am rediscovering her now.

Within that dim ten years I had chosen a partner that was more like my father than I care to admit. I spent far too long trying to repair my relationship with my father, through a significant other who talked a good game, until I gave up trying and let go. I was finally able to release this life sucking relationship, and of the vacancy of a father at the same damn time. When I reread accounts of Sylvia Plath’s marriage with the poet Ted Hughes, I noticed with her too, the mirrored similarities between Hughes and her father. Unfortunately, Sylvia never reached the point of letting go of the relationships that no longer served her for her greater good.

Plath’s mental state and emotional struggles remained in such turmoil, that the only way out, to her, was to end her own life. But Esther and I won’t let her, or her life’s work, be cast aside like a piece of dust. We’ll share The Bell Jar; we’ll share her poetry and journals with anyone who will listen. We will spread the word, without shame, about mental health and be advocates to change how society thinks about it. We will protest the double standard while staying true to the virtue we set upon ourselves, and not the one society sets upon us. And I will continue to write my own story, in hopes it will help someone else, like Sylvia Plath helped me.

 

Works Cited

Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York, New York: Bantam Books, 1981. Print.

Ruth

In the night, we gather our dreams and our nightmares,
We wrap them like gifts in scenes only played when we are asleep.
We gather our tears and pour them over our wounds
To hopefully bud a stronger soul on the other side.

The weather inside such sleep gains momentum, with clamor and tunneling winds.
I watch the rain commit suicide against my pane,
I wonder how the chains felt wrapped around your neck;
I wonder if the musty basement mingled with your lavender pouches, to fill your last breath;

I wonder what you saw, as the pain and shame were replaced with a halo.
I’ve come close to not wanting to live too,
But I can’t imagine sleep arriving for long enough to allow me to.
When I near that aching point, I hear Lake Catherine whisper along an October breeze,

And I see the oak changing its leaves to rust, sacrificing her branches to the earth.
And all I know is that my mom was 16 when she lost you,
You fought the morning of,
And then you were gone that afternoon.

So I begin to trace the bark of the old oak with my fingertips,
Until blood filters through each canal,
As if each bevel and crevice were our veins,
And I carve your name with Grandpa’s for his heart had grieved without you.

I did not know you…and yet I sew your broken pieces in patches over my skin,
Scars and stitches, covering muscle and bone.
You are my oldest and darkest moments,
You are my light and illuminate all I need to see, to know, and to be.

My blood is your blood, my heart is your heart,
We share the knowing of ghosts, and tracing shadows
Into friends upon our walls. We see others from inside out,
And the beauty that is masked, and know it must come out.

Ruth

In the night, we gather our dreams and our nightmares,

We wrap them like gifts in scenes only played when we are asleep.

We gather our tears and pour them over our wounds

To hopefully bud a stronger soul on the other side.

 

The weather inside such sleep gains momentum, with clamor and tunneling winds.

I watch the rain commit suicide against my pane,

I wonder how the chains felt wrapped around your neck;

I wonder if the musty basement mingled with your lavender pouches, to fill your last breath;

 

I wonder what you saw, as the pain and shame were replaced with a halo.

I’ve come close to not wanting to live too,

But I can’t imagine sleep arriving for long enough to allow me to.

When I near that aching point, I hear Lake Catherine whisper along an October breeze,

 

And I see the oak changing its leaves to rust, sacrificing her branches to the earth.

And all I know is that my mom was 16 when she lost you,

You fought the morning of,

And then you were gone that afternoon.

 

So I begin to trace the bark of the old oak with my fingertips,

Until blood filters through each canal,

As if each bevel and crevice were our veins,

And I carve your name with Grandpa’s for his heart had grieved without you.

 

I did not know you…and yet I sew your broken pieces in patches over my skin,

Scars and stitches, covering muscle and bone.

You are my oldest and darkest moments,

You are my light and illuminate all I need to see, to know, and to be.

 

My blood is your blood, my heart is your heart,

We share the knowing of ghosts, and tracing shadows

Into friends upon our walls. We see others from inside out,

And the beauty that is masked, and know it must come out.

It Never Fades

Oh sweet nostalgia, you rush at me in every September,
and every time I think I am over you, you return to me
in saline pearls and orbs of opal, and you conjure such
emotion and leave me to struggle, with the tug and pull
of insanity, and I wanted to marry you, I wanted to ask
you for your hand to hold for the rest of our lives, I wan-
ted to step into the cold and damp of your worst nightmare,
the tornadoes of guilt and remorse that followed you in
your sleep; I wanted to feel the stain of your rain,
the emotions that etched each salted droplet deep into your
pale skin, to see the pain not just know it exists inside you,
but feel it through my own canvas, I wanted to take it from
you, to relieve you of all your heavy breathing, and your
tearful fits, and give you my eyes so you could see why
I loved you, why you are beautiful, and why your name
suits you, oh your soul trickles through me daily, you
are my mirror, my looking glass friend, the macabre
bird thrown into the sky, and the only one that can make
me cry, I now know what you meant when you said,
goodbye is the worst emotion to ever cry, because you
feel it push through your veins thick with misery, and
it never fades, and when I see you it doesn’t get easier,
but I pray it will with time, I pray that when I find someone
different, and the September breeze hits me just so, I will
think of you as my one time friend, and finally let you go.It