“You wear your heart on your sleeve,” people tell me. The writer in me wishes they would find a more interesting way to say this. The addict in me starts to brainstorm a garden of ways to prove them wrong. Don my bicep in a skull tattoo. Take up MMA fighting. Tell them I went to Emotions Anonymous and they kicked me out. Cancel Disney on Ice and take my toddlers to a Slayer concert. Start using the C word, and I don’t mean cocaine.
The truth is that my heart sits stapled to my forehead.
The earliest memory I have of my overpassionate display of emotion is from first grade. My mom thought it darling to dress me daily in Osh Kosh overalls. I was wearing my lavender ones, my blonde hair in pigtail braids. I remember doing my walk-run to get to the front of the rug for story time. Books, even then, offered refuge from my traffic jam mind.
The current mother in me wants to say that I was sitting criss cross applesauce, but this was 1983. So this particular day, on a particular brown rug, in a pair of suspenders that I didn’t much like, I sat Indian style while Mrs. Snyder neared the end of Charlotte’s Web. The characters in the book seemed like classmates to me. I knew them intimately; and while my heart was scraped a bit by the beginning of the book when Fern could no longer keep Wilbur the pig as a pet, I quickly healed when he settled into farm life with his new friend Charlotte.
What a spider! What a best friend! She saved Wilbur’s life over and over. It was the greatest story I had ever heard. Then the author, one Mr. E.B. White, just as life was perfect for the pig spider duo, decided to kill off Charlotte. I felt like someone karate chopped my gut. “What?” I shouted. Mrs. Snyder shushed me. I didn’t hear anything she said after that. Wilbur’s best friend was dead, and if that wasn’t horrible enough, she didn’t die on the farm. She died at the county fair.
I imagine the other students felt a little sad when Charlotte died, but I was the only one that day, when Mrs. Snyder stopped reading, on my knees, six-year-old clenched hands beating the floor, screaming, “No, Charlotte, no!”
I don’t remember being embarrassed by my hysterics that day, but it wasn’t long after that my mom started telling me that I was too sensitive. Her intentions were pure. She didn’t want to see her only child beaten up by the world.
I have trudged through countless years of my life taking quite the ass beating, believing that sensitivity is a character defect. I thought myself weak. My feelings, I thought, were simply too much. In an interview published in The Paris Review, E.B. White said in reference to his childhood, “I lacked for nothing except confidence.” Maybe that’s how writers are born. We are watchers even as children, unsure of what we are seeing or what to make of beautiful and ugly happenings, unsure of ourselves.
I don’t often question how I became a heroin addict. When the time beckons, I will tell the stories. My mom is of no fault in this situation. The disease model, the pictures I’ve seen of the alcoholic brain and the non-alcoholic brain have me convinced that I am wired differently. As a parent, I hope to celebrate my girls’ sensitivity while modeling for them the healthy ways in which to channel it. The lies I told myself growing up, specifically that I was just too much of everything, only fueled my seeking of sedation.
I didn’t write much after I turned from popping pills to sniffing heroin. And then there was the needle, not only the death of my voice, but the near thief of my life.
Emotional sobriety pokes its tender head to the surface long after the needle and bottle are removed. Some days she only shows up in moments, like when my three daughters are criss cross applesauced in front of me and I wipe my eyes after Charlotte dies and continue to the part of the story where Wilbur watches the hundreds of babies crawl from her egg sac, the last masterpiece. While most of the babies venture from the barn, three mousy voiced spiders decide to stay and live with Wilbur. My twin four-year-olds are smiling while my three-year-old asks, “Will they stay with Wilbur forever?” When I tell her yes she says, “That’s my favorite part.”