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No, Charlotte, No!

“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.”

Dear Self

I am the sliver of you where God lives. Remember that story? The one where those men tried to hide God where no one could find him? They tucked him in nooks of the human race. I know you are reading this and trying to outthink it. You want to say that God lingers in your little pug Edith. That too is true. Let’s not over analyze the situation, Jennifer.

I cringe at being cliche, but this is life and death. More eloquently said, this is the scuffle between paintbrush and trigger.

You ran to those fields in Auvers-sur-Oise, saw where your Vincent took his life. Maybe the easel stood slanted that day. Perhaps he didn’t possess the desired shades of blue. Or his heart ached for Marguerite. The crows swarmed. A revolver swathed in turpentine stained muslin. He pulled it out and placed it against his chest the way you have stuck those needles in your arms.

It was not a matter of choice.

You have been tethered to Vincent for years, romanticized his struggles, but the truth is, you are now three years older than he was when he took his life and you have been taking your own life for years now. You are just as sick as Van Gogh. The difference is that you are a mother to three little girls.

Perhaps initially there was a choice, but in some haze you don’t recall, you tumbled across a line and there you have resided in heroin’s cocoon of delusion. There is an enemy in this story. Your mother thought it was the drugs. You thought it was the world. You rebelled against it. But the villain was never the world. It was and is your very own mind trying to kill you.

Jen, your brain is a lying bitch.

It seeks to tell you that you chose to thieve these recent years from your daughters, but you know better. You must forgive yourself the way you do Gwynnie when she fibs, Kathryn when she bites, or Evelyn when she does that pterodactyl scream that machetes through your ears.

They know not what they do. They are brand new, just as you are on this day.

This is where you take the road Van Gogh couldn’t. This is where Vincent put down the brush. This is where you put down the rig and pick up the pen. Love isn’t in the brain or the heart. It’s lodged like a sparrow in the throat, and for too long, you have been voiceless.

The time is today. Just think of the possibilities. Impasto the world with words again. There are songs to sing, stories to tell.

Let go. Let go. Let go.

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