Every time I think about writing this one, I talk myself out of it because I know just writing again, just posting this to a blog another version of me wrote on, just coming out and saying something again after so long not — I know none of that actually changes anything.
I used to be so certain that my words and my willingness to share them would change things. That Johnny Finkle would make people laugh, that I could share my hard-earned wisdom through Dolores, that the blogs I wrote about Jesus would resonate, that the features I wrote would honor, that somehow this thing I started doing with gel pens in the second grade could help someone somewhere.
I’ve been thinking a lot about ketchup residue lately.
And by lately, I mean every night right before I fall asleep since quarantine started. My mind wanders to that little bit of ketchup that stays on the rim of the bottle and hardens if you don’t clean it up.
I hate ketchup residue.
It is one of the small things my OCD-riddled mind has to constantly find a way to stop concerning itself with, especially right before I fall asleep. I know the residue is there, I know one more day not dealing with it will mean one more day worrying about it, but I also know it’s not really the ketchup residue I’m super concerned about.
It’s all this. I mean, surely, you’ve noticed all this, right? I want all this to be as in my control as the ketchup residue is and it isn’t. ‘Cause if it was you better believe I’d get up and clean that fucking ketchup bottle.
In three months I’ve lost three loved ones to some form of suicide. One was a years-long process of giving up on life, one was an oft-resisted urge caused by mental illness, and one was, as far as I can tell, a tragically-followed, spontaneous impulse. Three people who I had known and loved throughout most of my life decided — in different ways and with different sets of circumstances and with different time elapsed between decision and action — it was too much. And they decided to go.
Anyone grieving suicide, I have to imagine, has that same guttural instinct right out of the gate that there was something they could have done. I had forgotten to text her this Mother’s Day like I usually do. I definitely could have kept up more after I moved out. I can’t actually remember if I sent a thank you card or not.
The guilt feels noble enough, I s’pose, but it’s actually more this thing that we do in lots of areas of life. Grasping for some semblance of control. Or, I don’t know, it is for me at least.
Because if it was something I actually did wrong, I can make sure I never ever do it again. If it was my fault, I can take the blame and the rest of you can move along. If it was on me, I can make the adjustment and you’ll want me around again, right? If it was my mere existence that caused this, my absence would surely fix it, so, I’ll leave you all be. I gotta believe if I had done things differently, this would have gone differently, so I will always always always make sure I do things differently.
I’ll do all the right precautions and then no one I know will get sick. I’ll listen to all the right podcasts, read the right books, sign the right petitions, attend the right rallies — c’mon, I can stop this injustice, I know I can. Put me in, coach.
On the day of the third suicide, before I’d known it happened, I was training to make phone calls with an organization that fights for gun control. Mere hours after someone I loved took their life with a gun.
I don’t really have a point for that one, I suppose it’s just something I’m attempting to find meaning in.
I crave control. If I am in control, so my mind thinks, we might all just end up OK, so I better do these little tasks and get that glorious hit of feeling in control.
I am absolutely addicted to cleaning the ketchup bottle and, as of yet, doing so isn’t fixing a single damn thing.
So. Here’s what I have a feeling may be true and what I will do my best to believe as I fall asleep tonight.
My sphere of control is incredibly, ridiculously small. And that is very good news. For me, for you, for him, for her, for them. I couldn’t have stopped those suicides. I cannot end this pandemic (though, I did wish for it every time I blew out candles last week). Things are so ludicrously out of my control and that is so freeing I quite literally just felt my shoulders relax.
For some of you, this is far from brand new information. And to you I’d say congratulations on being born with logic. I hope you enjoy the money you save on therapy and prescribed medication.
I, however, just learned a year ago that I don’t cause national tragedies with my mind. Magical thinking is a hell of a thing and logic very rarely comes easily to me.
Here’s what is in my itty bitty sphere of control. My own willingness to wear a mask, my ability to hire Black writers, my time calling voters, my time voting, my overly verbose words of encouragement when I think someone could use them, my healthy decision-making, my presence, my empathy, my turns-of-phrase, my ins-on-the-jokes, my words, my love, my hope, my understanding, my celebrating. I can do all those. And I’d like to.
Perhaps my little sphere of control has an even more minuscule sphere of influence. I’m not sure. But on the off-chance something that is in my control can make even one single part of all this just a little bit lighter for literally one someone else?
Yeah, I’m gonna clean the ketchup bottle. I know there’s more residue coming, but, for now, maybe a clean ketchup bottle is just what we need to have something to be grateful for before sleep.