Nights during a Borderline episode feel like sitting on a raft in the ocean during a storm. Tears drip to my lips like salt water and I can almost feel the sheets rocking underneath me. I clutch them tight in my hands to keep them still, to keep myself from falling into the water. But oh how easy it would be to surrender, to give in to the familiar sinking of my body. To become a fixture among the alien creatures of the deep sea. They say we know less about the bottom of the ocean than we know about space. That great unknown has whispered to me all my life.
I’ve been afraid of the water since I was a kid and read about Jonah and the whale, how God was so angry with Jonah for not following his orders that he sent a whale to swallow him. Dad used to come to our apartment in the middle of the night offering to take us to the beach. We would pack a bag quickly as my mom reminded us we didn’t have to go even as we were piling into his white van. I loved the ride at night, listening to Weezer on my iPod Nano and staring at the lights on the Walt Whitman bridge as we passed the city. Those nights we’d jump on bikes as soon as we arrived, at 3am, park them on the boards and walk on the beach. Sometimes I was brave enough to sink my toes into the ice cold water, and I’d imagine walking up to my chin and maybe I could keep walking and walking and a whale would come along to do God’s bidding.
On stormy nights I sometimes go to the Schuylkill river; it’s a forty minute walk, give or take. I think about how it would feel to climb the cement of the bridge and stand looking over the city, to fall into the water and not cry out, no, I would not cry out. I would shut my eyes, resist the urge to tread water, and I would sink, let my mouth open and the water flood in. Or maybe the water would spit me out again and I would tell myself that I would not go to the water anymore. I’d say “the old me went to the water,” and I’d move to a landlocked state, avoid ponds and even puddles on the road in my morning commute.
In the morning, the water is gone and my bed becomes a desert. I cannot drink water; in my studio apartment, the walk to the fridge is too long. I cannot make the journey to the bathroom. I cannot eat because I have no food in my fridge. The water is everything but the desert is nothing for miles, lying out in the sand burning in the sun like I am already dead, but my body refuses to die. In Catholic classes we were told about Jesus spending forty days and nights fasting in the desert after his baptism only to be tempted by Satan. At one point Satan tells him to throw himself off a cliff, that God would save him if he cared, and Jesus says “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
One day when I’m sixteen my mom finds me in the desert. She picks me up. She hands me the toothbrush. She takes the razor out of the shower before she puts me in. She drives me to Starbucks and tells me that she knows what it feels like to be in the desert. How when her first husband left when she was nineteen she ate nothing for days alone in the apartment they once shared. When I find the razor the next day I run it over my legs purposefully to hurt and I think about breaking a vein. The desert didn’t lead me to salvation, it led me to a hospital. Maybe those are the same thing.
When I throw myself off a cliff, God throws me back. He does not seem to care how many times I put him to the test. He does not care that I haven’t been to church in 10 years. Why is it that when you want to die, you can’t? My dad has been in love with heroin as long as I can remember, driving drunk nights out to the beach and still the ocean will not take him. God puts me in the whale, the whale spits me up, and I’m left in the desert so long I wish for the water again.