"An Unbearable Lightness"

My friend Leslie remarked via email that she was “somewhat jealous” of my impromptu adventure, to which I replied “don’t be.” There’s no envy to be found in fright, in flight, in a series of decisions made on the fly and without consideration of the future. I got into my black Mustang and drove west: the image itself evokes the idyllic car ride down an empty highway or lonely stretch of road, a cloud of dust kicked up by rear-wheel power–liberation unbundled like a black ponytail undone: hair unfurled and freed.

What the image hides is the reason why. Unless insane, nothing is done without reason though, at various points in my travels, I wondered if I had become unhinged, if the continued erasure of my life, dubbed “the year of subtraction,” had finally wiped away all traces of reality. Why was I on the road? I didn’t dare answer the question while behind the wheel, so I focused on an easier query: would I ever come back?

Therein lied true terror. I liquidated my life of its material possessions, sans clothing and a handful of books and journals and a car. I gave it all away. I remember the heat of that last week in July, in New Jersey, and how delirious I felt in our apartment, as if heat stroke ignored the full blast of the central air conditioning system. I thought about visiting my doctor. As I packed all of my books and most of my clothes–wedding suit included–and every object that might be coveted by another party, I became prone to dizzy spells.

Or merely “spells,” since the room didn’t spin nor did I feel nauseous. Rather, the “spells” made me feel lightheaded and discharged, for a moment, from reality, from time and space. I felt like falling. Every few minutes, whether I ran old junk mail and love letters through a paper shredder, or lamented over the beautiful books I meticulously collected over the years & easily dispatched to a “giveaway” pile, my eyes throbbed and dimensions around me pulsated–the walls rippled and the floor shifted. I thought I was dying. Death surrounded me.

Earlier in July, I relocated to Brooklyn. I always wanted to live in New York and, with a month-long sublet acquired, I found myself in the complicated borough, looking for work while warding off, in retrospect, a depressive episode. Change is the gaseous catalyst for my depression; all it takes is the death of stability, of the known, for me to become saddened, then afraid as I notice an increasing difficulty with the act of rising from the bed. Or perhaps the near future depressed me.

While in Brooklyn, I had to finally develop and, eventually, execute the final plan to exit the apartment in Camden, New Jersey. Our apartment. The huge loft-style home she and I chose almost a year after we got married, a few months after I began taking anti-depressants, and weeks away from a series of events which left the both of us wondering what happened to our love, our relationship, and to me. All of this, including the copious amounts of ephemera, waited for me in New Jersey; as my lease approached its end, I had to throw it all away. I had to clean up the viscera; I had to issue Last Rites to our marriage, and former home, alone.

No matter where I turned, there was an object which reminded me of us. All the cards she got for me; all the pictures we snapped with our cameras; all the love letters and poems I wrote for her. I had to throw it all away and I had to do it alone and as I pitched the newly-labeled “junk,” the spells came upon me.

In the moment, I hardly considered myself “depressed,” just simply “broken” as, it seemed to me, inexplicable, random tears fell from my eyes. I was so tired in so many ways, tangible or otherwise, and all my defenses, all the scar tissue surrounding my sensitive parts–tools to ward off any notion of crying–failed me. I punched walls and slammed objects to the floor. I hated her, though she did nothing wrong–her transgressions were mild and irritating when compared my deadly, selfish decisions.

I thought I reconciled all of this or, if nothing else, was on the road to some form of healing, where the pain subsided but the wounds still ached from time to time. Eight months of work became undone as I cleaned out our apartment, a task which dragged on far longer than originally planned. It wasn’t just her stuff, or mine, or ours–I soon realized I had dragged years of objects with me from state to state, woman to woman. I still had shirts my first wife bought me when I was 23 and living in Georgia; books gifted to me by an ex from Washington DC, a woman I haven’t seen or spoken to since 2002.

I had to guffaw, to release a foghorn’s blare from my throat: I had the gall to feel “heavy” or weighted down for so many years, and for unknown reasons, yet the causes–some of them, anyway–were right in front of me. And what was I to do? Box up these trinkets, these things which have infiltrated and bogged down my daily life, and bring them with me back to Brooklyn, where I dare believed I could execute the mythical “fresh start”? How fresh can a life become if it’s constantly anchored by the baubles of dead lives, of dead selves? A Franz Fanon book, a piece of jewelry, a half-empty journal: they were all headstones to my former selves, those boys so desperate for love, they sacrificed themselves–the fools, the false martyrs.

A simple tidying-up became a restoration project. A declaration of reclamation or, dare I say, of forgiveness, for how could I ever forgive myself for the hearts I broke, and the manners in which I launched such destruction, if I never made myself lighter? Perhaps that was the source of my spells. Lightness and the delirium of subtracted weight, of sudden buoyancy. I felt lighter during the final stretch, the last two days of my time in New Jersey, when I finished packing my belongings, or hauled trash to the dumpster, or drove south to a park near my childhood home, where I pitched my two wedding bands into a lake.

Lightness, however, is merely a state of being without an assignment of either “good” or “bad”…it simply “is”. I became so light, I felt unchained to the earth. I felt as though I had no ties to the ground, to life. I felt spectral, ghostly, or well on my way to some kind of spirit world–Soul Society, as it’s referred to in the manga/anime Bleach. With the belief that I had nothing left to lose, I decided to delay my return to New York; I decided to head west.

During the entire ordeal of jettisoning my belongings, then preparing to drive to nowhere in particular, I was no fool. Everything I was doing screamed SUICIDE and I knew it, but I couldn’t dispel the notion. I wasn’t sure if I was ever coming back to New York, or to my family and friends. Leaving it all behind had the flavor of a one-way trip–and this sat well with me. I felt as though I lost it all–losing my life, or throwing it away, seemed fitting, desirable, and inevitable.

Mensah Demary, whose prose has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, is co-founder & editor-in-chief of Specter MagazineA contributor for The Lit Pub, Thought Catalog, Art Faccia, and Peripheral Surveys, Mensah lives & writes in Brooklyn.

  • philip dodd

    This is yet more self obsessed, pretentious drivel, from a “writer” who has an overblown sense of his own importance. Try writing about something other than your own uninteresting navel.

  • Ed

    “Change is the gaseous catalyst for my depression”. Dude, do you mean you farted?

  • Laura

    Proof that PANK should publish non-fiction! (If, indeed, this story is non-fiction.) This essay resonates with me on many levels, is honest and well-constructed. Thanks for sharing, Mensah. You’ve reminded me of all the dark places I need to go.

  • Philip Dodd

    Laura – “all the dark places I need to go”? Like caves or holes, or are you suggesting that “being depressed” is an enticingly essential place to be? Also in terms of honesty, yep I suppose it is, and all the worse for it. A self obsessed technicolour yawn. Well constructed? Well maybe compared to some other even less competent ramblings.

  • Philip,

    I see you are using the “I-have-a-really-really-disturbing-and-strange-obsession-with-mensah” form of literary criticism. I prefer post-structuralism myself, but heay, to each his own.

  • Zeke

    Think we can safely say that the only person obsessed with Mensah is Mensah.