ON THE SHELVES
The Vast Landscape Series
I Am Adam Lanza – by Jacqueline Cioffa
A decade ago I lived a frivolous, spoiled, privileged life. An International fashion model, I worked in more countries than I can count. Freedom was something I took for granted, until the earth fell from under me and my whole world shattered.
My first psychotic breakdown took away everything I knew to be true and buried me whole.
The paranoia, delusions of grandeur, mania, the irrational and out of control behavior. I wanted to die, too exhausted by the fragile, broken mind. I wanted to let go of the rage, the fear, the despair, I wanted to end my life. The slicing of the wrists, my escape and a way out. Dancing in the streets, in stores, I was too out of my mind to be ashamed, by my behavior. The shame and isolation would come later, as thick and heavy as a steel beam, freight train crushing my soul.
I lived with my brother, exasperated, helpless, not knowing what more he could do, he put me on a bus back home to my mother. My Irish, stubborn, loyal, family first, capable mother. She had experience dealing with Mental Illness; my family had been plagued by the unlucky 1 in 4 gene pool.
My sick, wracked mind betrayed me, no longer mine to control. The whole and intact me, I used to know now gone forever. The carefree, compassionate, strong, independent person is living her worst nightmare. Even on the hard, horrific days, the dark evil thoughts dominating my brain, I fight desperately to regain control. If you have not been exposed to Mental Illness, please do not talk to me about it. You are out of your league, cannot begin to comprehend the exhausting toll it takes. On a family, friends, that is if you are lucky enough to have any left. Mostly, you are left with isolation and shame, your own.
My second breakdown brought black days, numbness, and a shell of a person. The depression and anxiety, so crippling I was forced to leave the big city, retreat back home to the safety of familiar surroundings. The pain so deep, so heavy, the fear immense, death seemed my only option. A welcome release from the demons, the evil lurking in the corners of a tortured mind.
I work hard to beat the beast daily, as soon as my feet hit the floor, shaking. I take the psych drugs, Lithium, Xanax, Valium, the shock treatments and practice alternative medicine. I do yoga, eat healthy, exercise and live simple. I try to avoid the triggers, terrified of the next episode.
I never know when the outbursts will come, when paranoia will convince me the man in the park wants to kill me. In my heart and my soul, I know this is completely irrational. But, the mind plays tricks. I have to fight, every minute, every second to control the grappling Illness I must live with. Day after day, in constant fear of what I might do next. I don’t own a gun, I would be afraid to have one in close proximity. I hate violence, I find it abhorrent, but I do not trust the beast.
There is no concrete help for the Mentally Disabled; there is half hour, once a month consults with the overworked, underpaid psychiatrist, who spends your time glancing at a clock. There are no solutions, into the mysteries of a broken mind, they throw pills at you. Pills that may very well be your undoing, send you deeper into depression, trigger manic episodes or worse an acute psychotic episode, and the killing of innocent souls. Those are the worst breaks, the psychosis, and the hardest to come back from. I have visited them firsthand.
I watched, helpless as my beautiful, brilliant, Yale educated, compassionate cousin ended her own life. She was a Dr., the smartest person I know and she could not find a way out of the Mental Illness that plagued her. My own father, who endured 17 years of Mental Illness, endless pills that made him worse, psychiatric hospital visits, a dementia ridden mind at the end. My mother, who fought every battle with him, and for him when he couldn’t. His daughter who would always be in my memory, his adored, precocious, funny face, happy and intact child.
He died not knowing my name. Although, in my heart and my spirit, I know exactly what I meant to him. His last breath I was beside him, holding his hand and on his heart. I felt the unbearable pain and destroyed mind, set free as he floated up to heaven. He was a good man, the kindest, most selfless I know.
I am a good person, who doesn’t deserve this fate. I am not a violent person, but I am Adam Lanza. He may have committed a horrific, unspeakable EVIL, act. Did he start out evil? He must have been an innocent, child himself at some point. When did his broken mind take over, when did he lose all rational, self-control? It’s too hard to grasp, too big to think about without immeasurable faith.
When are we, as an empathetic society, going to care about the Mentally Ill? Fight for them; stick up for them, as eagerly as we fight against gun control. When will we do something about the fact that there is no place for ‘us’, when the evil, mind disease takes hold? They send you to the ER, push a pill, perhaps a 72 hour hold to the Psych Ward. There is nowhere a parent with a disturbed, sick child can turn. We are in trouble, as a society. Take the guns off the streets, a mentally disturbed individual will find another way to kill. Help us fix them, with more research, better facilities, more culpability from the Government and its people, for the Mentally Ill.
I weep for those children, the families, the unimaginable depths of pain and sorrow. I rejoice in my youth, safe, happy and healthy. I’m grateful for that. I expose myself, sharing my story. Perhaps it can help bring insight and perspective. I don’t believe human beings are evil, I believe they are defective and commit violent, unspeakable acts.
Mental Illness has afflicted me, but it could’ve been you or a loved one. One in four is not great odds. I am alone, completely and utterly alone with my Illness, even while surrounded by an empathic family. I am not a child; I am an adult, who’s better equipped to manage this bastard disease.
Please, don’t judge me. Don’t judge Adam Lanza. Don’t judge the ‘crazy,’ the insane, the unfit, the unwell, the lunatic that is me.
Help us instead.
MAD SWIRL A CREATIVE OUTLET
37 Windows by Jacqueline Cioffa
My parent’s house has 37 windows and countless memories. It’s the home my Mom grew up in. I know every nook and cranny; I’ve heard all her childhood tales. It’s the 37 windows that her father, an Irishman bought with a small sum and a dream. He’d plant a garden and fix her walls and cure this house and make it his own. He’d have babies that would grow into gentlemen and scholars. He’d live a rich life filled with triumphs and racked with disappointment. It’s the 37 windows that would beckon him and his wife to sleep one night after a life well lived. 37 windows would sweetly and softly carry them expertly back home.
37 windows watched over me as a child. Free and safe to run wild in the streets screaming and laughing out loud. My mom would call out every night at suppertime. We’d sit around the table, talking and giggling about nothing and everything. My grandfather was still there, feeding us food and wisdom straight from his garden. There was conversation and laughter and food enough for everyone. There would be cousins and friends who’d show up and stay in that house until they were independent and strong. Her 37 windows patiently nurtured them, sending them off once they were brave enough to leave home.
37 windows open faithfully each spring and hunker down in wintertime. 37 windows whispered to me as a teen, “Go, be brave and immerse yourself. Be kind and confident, behave like a solid lady who can reap and sow her own garden.“
37 windows welcomed me after a messy divorce and an abusive husband. She was happy to give me shelter and open her doors. 37 windows raised her arms and said, “Welcome home, little girl. You’ll be alright, time to heal your heart.” My body shook, my heart closed tight by each figurative and literal bruise, every new disappointment. Then, something magical happened over time, the birth of new babies and summers and barbecues and a puppy and a pool that looked brand new, but had thirty years healed me. I became whole again. I had forgotten for a second the power of 37 windows and where I came from. Sometimes, it takes the eyes of others to see who you are, the stuff you are made of.
Family has always been all around me. I guess I’m lucky like that. I tried to leave, venture out on my own. Move away. Continents and ocean lengths away, it was never quite far enough. In my mind and my heart, they came with me. No matter the color or style of the glass, the endless other windows that have housed me have never felt quite like home. Even with the spirits of the people I have loved housed inside me, I am never without the power of family and a healing home.
All the Buddha’s, the crosses, the picture frames, the Zen-like qualities I add to each new space I live in, there is still a missing ingredient. I lost my mind a few years back and once again my childhood home and her 37 windows beckoned me. My bed and the smell of talc, the clean summer-breeze smell of the sheets brought me familiar comfort. I felt safe, if not whole. The way the sheer curtain rose and fell in the breeze at night eased my heavy load. She promised me I’d find my way out of the dark. It was simple, I was home.
I never gave it much thought. I took for granted that house would be there. My Dad died 352 days ago. All that’s left now of 37 windows is my Mom and my infrequent visits.
Maybe she’ll sell it and move to a smaller, more manageable home. That would be ok, I think. I always thought 37 windows housed me. Her walls so deeply embedded; I never understood I actually housed her. I hold all her memories, her secrets and laughter and dance and death and songs. 37 windows hold my past and my present, but I house all the people I hold precious and dear and call home.
One, Two Buckle My Shoe – By Jacqueline Cioffa
One, two buckle my shoe. I don’t know how other writers find their way into a story.
For me, it usually goes something like this. I hear a line in my head, a word, see a visual, and then the story plays over and over, until I release it onto the page. Its cathartic, sometimes it takes me back, some days it moves me forward when I am wallowing and can’t get unstuck. Most times, it’s just an honest, real interpretation of an emotion. I’m an emotional girl. Or, so I’ve been told.
I live with the image, words, sometimes for days, weeks, even months. Then, like magic or being possessed, I have to get it out. My fingers take over the keys; my mind wanders and dictates the thoughts, mulling it about until there is a clear picture. I see mere babies growing, learning the simple phrase, “One, two, buckle my shoe.” We are all preconditioned from the start. “Look at me, Mommy look what I can do. I can talk, walk and dance all on my own.” And we wait, for the love, the adoration, the pride on their faces. The loving adoration of a parent and their perfect can do no wrong baby girl. We wait, and then we wait some more.” Look Daddy, I dyed my hair red with a blond streak, I wanted to be different”. I got drunk in school, lashing out against the bullies, the in crowd, and the machine, desperate to be an individual. Daddy holds my head as I puke and strokes my hair, he tells the first lie. “It’s ok, baby girl, you are my princess, you are going to be all right.” And we wait, for the clap. Bravo, you are so smart, so beautiful they say. You are positive they mean it. You miss the roll of the eyes in frustration, or the bed time whisper and tears, “I’m so worried about her.” She’s too young to be this sad, so depressed, to be so oddly different. One, two buckle my shoe. I must conform to society, wear the same shoe, walk the same old boring old walk, say all the right things. I’m sad for the young girl, so miserably, visibly unhappy, in high school. I hate the way this feels; I take note that I am different. They say nothing, providing all the pleasantries and comforts of a supportive, loving home. I am so lucky like that. Maybe they knew all along, how horribly difficult things would turn out, how unusual I would actually become.
“It’s not her fault, it’s in her genes.” Oh my God, did they speak it aloud? She’s Mentally Ill. What?! One, two, buckle my shoe. I try to be normal, to please them, to see the admiration still on their faces. My daddy is gone, he died a broken man. Mental Illness got him, no matter how hard my mother fought. She did not win. We buried him in a grave and he has not yet come back. I wait for him. I still wait for him. In my dreams, during this sabbatical and these sick days, he hasn’t come. He can’t quite find his way back. One, two buckle my shoe. My mother has aged so. The bravest, head strong, caring, woman I know. Cursed in this lifetime to fall in love, make a family. One, two buckle my shoe.
With a baby daughter who would grow to walk in her father’s shoes. I didn’t mean it, as hard as I try, I can’t win. The Lunacy gene has taken hold of me, too. One, two buckle my shoe. I don’t care if I die see; the excruciating days are too hard to fill. I came back home. Home, to the safe, happy childhood home I once knew. It’s less happy now. There are fewer nursery rhymes. There are only mornings, where I wake shaking and take pills. Lots and lots of pills, I count. Ten a day, sometimes twelve. I don’t want them, fuckers one and all. I hide it best I can. Inside I am a ticking time bomb, shoeless, crying, screaming, I’m so sorry I didn’t make you proud. I gave it my best shot. I hide the pain, the fear, the paranoia, and the overwhelming anxiety the best way I know how. In the bottom of an old, outgrown, dated, and worn down shoe. I’m sorry, really so very sorry I never meant to lose my mind. I’ve always wanted to come back to you, to make my mother and father proud. I lie most days, I do. Sometimes that even makes me feel better. I can forget the ugly future that awaits.
I am penniless, wandering with no direction. One, two buckle my shoe. I end up in an institution or worse on the street. No one cares. They barely saw me before. You see, while my parents were busy clapping my way into adulthood, I saw it. The times they were preoccupied doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, getting on with life. They missed my first steps. Not on purpose, not without regret. I know they tried their best, I know they did. But, I’m still looking for that first and final clap. It never comes. I will always be out of step.
I drink Ginger with a bit of Ale to ease the relentless ad nauseam that is the day. It’s winter here. We have had an easy time of it. Today, the sun shines and I reminisce. One, two buckle my shoe. I can’t remember the full verse. I guess it doesn’t matter anyhow. I will ask my mother. No, no I must not. I must learn to walk on my own, however blistering and uncomfortable the shoe. The numbness fits.
Gypsies and Pixie Dust by Jacqueline Cioffa – issue.com
“Gypsies and Pixie Dust” was one of the first prose pieces I had published. I was elated to see the essay in print accompanied by my given name. Sadly, Frames Lines is no more but the story remains relevant. #loveandloss #elderRespect #kindness #Travel
Click on the link for the full piece.
“I exist, therefore I am, mistakes and imperfections one and all. I don’t want to be considered an artist. I want to be thought of as a student of art.”