God Help Me

Center-frayed I begin to ponder—in the way one probes an aching tooth with the tongue—whether my presence causes more pain to those I love than my absence.

It feels as if my hands and feet and jaw are pierced with hooks and strung with piano wire, and these wires pierce their hearts, so that no matter what I do or utter, I make them bleed. The more I struggle, the more I rend their flesh. There is no making things right. There is no making things whole.

Suicide is a tempting lie, and like other lies I’ve cradled in my palms—one more drink and you’ll forget; seduce her and then you will be truly known—it is a bold lie that dares me to believe it in spite of itself.

A soul-splitting lie is like a novel, it demands that we suspend belief in the world of sharp corners and gravity. And God save us, God damn us, sometimes we suspend belief.

Center-frayed. Do you know that feeling? You are bound to people who need you and people who want things from you and people who believe they are entitled to a piece of you. When enough of them sink teeth into your hide or heart and pull in their separate directions, it is the center that gives, the center of you.

You get worn and center-frayed, and you don’t know how much more you can bear before you crumple or snap, before you uncage a scream that you may not be able to cram back into your belly once it rages free in the stifled air about your head.

Some days the center of me wears thin, and I have come to believe in miracles because I have watched myself get out of bed, even as I whimper aloud: “I can’t do this.”

Maybe depression is the lie.

I can do this. I do get out of bed. I have gotten out of bed almost every godforsaken morning I wake to feel the gray nesting in my bones. I have defied the gray and risen from bed in spite of my own protests and I have not exited this life and if that isn’t a miracle then show me one, show me one in this age when science explains everything but the reason we grasp this life that science is hell-bent on extending.

It’s this goddamned pride, I tell myself.

The gray pours into my pores because I dandle this idol of my self, this precious vision of accomplishments and eminence and meaning. I nurse this narcissism and the world gives me bills I can barely pay, and stories I can’t sell, and this body that betrays me. The gray pours in because I am certain that I am entitled to something more than this, and what a detestable thing to believe, when this broken earth bears mothers so malnourished they haven’t the strength to swat flies from their shallow-breathing babies.

It’s this love, I offer myself.

My boys are twelve, ten, eight, and five, and my girl is whatever age they assign you on the other side of the veil, but I call them all my babies because I am sentimental, because my sentimentality completes my portrait of self-loathing.

The thing I can scarcely bear is the pain I feel radiating from them in waves, the pain of a mother in one house and a father in another and the knowing that they will never again wake on Christmas day in a home that holds both parents. I have wounded them and by living apart from their mother I wound them every day.

It is this love, I whisper to myself, that makes me wake in darkness and groan.

Maybe people kill themselves because they are selfish and maybe because they are deluded and maybe just because it is the last way they know to be the center of attention. Maybe they do it because the thought of one more dark wakeful night, and one more gray morning, is more than they think they can bear. Maybe they do it because they can’t imagine making this life good again.

These days I pray a simple prayer. I pray that God will make it good despite me. This is where I am, I say to him. Some people are worse, most are better, but this is where I am. Help me live a good life from this day on. Help me.

I don’t know about other people who whimper when the day demands they enter it, but for me the dread is not of what lies ahead, it’s what I leave behind. I’ll wager there are no amnesiac suicides. It’s our memories that condemn us. It’s our memories that crush us.

This is where I am. What lies in front of me is this day, and it can be good in spite of me. Maybe even because of me. If I made those days behind me bad, after all, that can only mean that I might have made them good. And that means that I have, by the grace of God, all I need to make this day good.

This is, I whisper to God, where I am. Help me live a good life from this day on. Help me.

Art above: Agnes Martin, Falling Blue, 1963. 

About Tony Woodlief

Tony Woodlief lives in North Carolina. His essays have appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The London Times, and his short stories appeared in Image, Ruminate, Saint Katherine Review, and Dappled Things. His website is www.tonywoodlief.com.

  • http://briarcroft.wordpress.com Emily Gibson

    Tony, you have an unparalleled ability to speak to the raw core of our human helplessness which cries out our need for God.

    Maybe those who are feeling such pain as you are right now won’t kill themselves because they recognize they don’t want to exponentially transfer their pain to those left behind. It is a worthy enough reason to keep getting out of bed: to fight the contagion of infectious hopelessness. Let the fight begin with you (and me).

  • http://writingwithoutpaper.blogspot.com Maureen

    May God bless you.

  • susan804

    I sob as I read about your pain. I sob for you. I sob for myself. I sob for everyone who can identify with your story. I also sob for those who can’t identify. I sob even more for those who do not want to hear it. Every life story is unique and so is the pain in each life. Mine is different but the same. Many days my prayer has been, “HELP.” It still is. Some days it is a quiet murmur. Others, it is a SCREAM. Today I say it as I sob. God bless you and all who ache and sob and pray and, somehow, get out of bed. God bless those who don’t. Amen.

  • http://www.tonywoodlief.com Tony Woodlief

    I find that I’m increasingly tone deaf, or maybe I just carry my ideal reader so closely that I imagine she is inside my head. The point is, especially to all of you kind enough to send emails or reach out in some other way just to check on me, I’m okay. Truth be told, I thought this missive ended on a high note. I’m realizing that it’s not all helpless. That it never all depended on me in the first place. That I — even I, even the likes of me — can make something good, can be someone worthwhile, by the grace of God. And so can every broken one of you.

  • Maria

    Hi tony, you did end it on a great note! You took us on a journey as you broke through your own limitations. Even despite yourself, your past and the present, you asked and you connected to the God source within and you found the courage and strength to live each moment, hour, day without expectation but with anticipation – hope :)

    Thank you for sharing, many blessings, Maria

  • Jennifer

    Tony, thank you. You put into words something that has been locked away inside me for over 5 years. It isn’t legal papers or a judge’s say-so that has separated me from my babies, or from my husband of 17 years. It is pain – physical, unyielding, and apparently undiagnosable (and therefore unfixable) – that binds me to the bed all too often, and drags me under the helpless haze of one drug after another. It rubs my nerves raw before any child ever utters a word, asks for a thing, or bounces a ball, so all the pain and suffering comes out in horrible words of anger and bitterness meant to be directed toward the pain but instead are heaped on innocent heads. It chases away the well-meaning comfort because every hug and gentle touch from my loving husband feels like fire and barbed wire.
    It seems like each day it is a little harder, and takes a little longer to groan out that “help”, and for a while now, I’ve forgotten why I was even trying to do it. Trying to do anything, really. In fact, I opened the link to your article and it sat, unread, on my computer for four days. And this evening, after everyone was in bed, and I was on the floor doubled over and writhing in pain and asking God what the hell I’m even alive for anymore, what does it even matter…I suddenly found myself feeling a hint of gratefulness…that the kids were in bed and didn’t have to witness their mother cowering on the floor, howling like an animal in pain. And, as the pain backed off a bit, I felt a renewed desire (that I lost years ago after too many disappointments) to try one more last-ditch effort at finding answers, so opened the laptop. And found this.
    I guess pain and suffering and hopelessness comes in all shapes and sizes. It wasn’t just the hope in seeing that I am not alone, though. But the reminder that the Hope knows much better than I the “why”, and the “how” (my children and husband will come through this without my pain destroying their faith, their love, their hope). I can cling to that. Thanks, Tony, for the words that gave me something to hold onto again.

  • http://www.tonywoodlief.com Tony Woodlief

    Dear Jennifer,

    A good friend (good to me, though I haven’t been so good to him) who knows a fair piece about suffering told me once that sometimes his prayer is simply, “Help.”

    My prayer for you in 2013 is that you begin to hear God’s answer, that you know he hears you, and that you take some comfort in knowing, when you whisper it on those dread dark nights, that you are not alone.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X