Thomm Quackenbush, author

My Students' Lives Matter | 2016 | A Trans-Girl in the Boy's Unit

10.10.16

Is it fair to have given us the memory of what was and the desire of what could be when we must suffer what is?  

-Neil Jordan



A Light through the Forest

If you tell them you are going to kill yourself, they will bring the police to your door to forcibly institutionalize you, or so the legend goes. I would never dare to tell the operators that, even if it were true. I am the grown version of the little boy who refused to tell anyone he had chicken pox because he assumed it was a fatal disease and didn't want to be a bother. It was nobler to die without being a burden on loved ones.

If you tell the operator you aren't going to kill yourself, the crisis hotline will hang up on you. Most operators will not do it immediately, but they start a countdown. The longest I ever lasted confiding in some soothing stranger was fifteen minutes. I think this is the hard limit. Usually, it was closer to five minutes - hardly long enough time to bring my breathing and heart rate down to human levels - because the resource of their attention is finite. Every minute spent talking to someone not eyeing the Clorox is one that could go to swaying someone away from the biggest mistake of their life.

No one calls the hotline who doesn't want to be talked down. If you really don't want the help, you just die. It is both heartening and damning that our society has a variety of crisis hotlines, some that exist solely for the LGBTQ population. If only we felt connected enough to the people in our lives, we wouldn't need to reach out to trained strangers. Then again, the affliction that persuades us to call also tells us that no one in our lives cares.

Only once did an operator actually cut me off, when I was panicking because a tree limb shot through the ceiling of my studio apartment, destroying my possessions by launching them where I had been sitting minutes before. Had I not uncharacteristically decided to sit on my bed, I would have taken pottery, metal, and drywall to the skull. The winter leaked in through the gaping hole. My criminally negligent landlord was in Japan and cared nothing for what I lost, telling me to break into the apartment next door and sleep there. In my weakness, I called a hotline so that I could be soothed enough to proceed with the chore of living my impoverished life. The woman sharply told me this was not a reason to call. Hours later, still freaking out and unable to sleep, I called back and connected to the same woman, who hung up when she heard it was me. I did not call again that night. I am certain her life was hard, listening to the desperate and the dying, and I simply became her outlet as seeming the least weak. I like to believe she regretted discarding me, but that might be to flatter myself.

I was never suicidal because I have a fundamental tenacity to seeing how this story will end. Neurotypical people don't tend to see the distinction, but I never wanted to die. I just wanted to, from time to time, not exist. Even when I was on an herbal supplement that was supposed to act as an antidepressant but which actually made my photosensitive and obsessed with destruction (in that I couldn't drive over a bridge without envisioning what it would be like to plunge off), I never wanted to commit suicide. It just would have been nice to take a vacation from being me.

It has been over five years since I have called a crisis hotline, though there have been some dark moments since. (That I have been with my wife and had a stable job these last five years should not be taken as a coincidence.) I considered calling a few times, just to tell some stranger that these talks helped me through the night. I am sure I would not reach someone whom I had spoken to before - the burn out rate must be near 100% - but I like the idea of apologizing to the concept of the operators.

I do not know that I am cured as much as in remission. I can move with normal people and I do not think most would finger me as having any emotional or mental abnormalities because I excel at devising coping strategies. (Fortunately for those who enjoy my descriptions, the best of these is writing about my mental state; you will usually have a much better understanding of how I actually am than people who ask that question in person.) I am in marginal therapy - she asks how I am and tells me obvious things, like that I need a literary agent - and on two low-grade prescriptions that point me toward who I would like to be and let me walk the rest of the way less burdened.

I wouldn't be dead without crisis hotlines. I wouldn't be physically scarred from self-injury. I wouldn't be a drug addict or alcoholic. I don't think I would be in the wrong relationship. However, they represented a release valve that let me feel human when my thoughts ran away in a panic. I will always be grateful to the solace they gave me that allowed me to escort myself out of the forest and into the light.

Soon in Xenology: Faces.

last watched: Pontypool
reading: Hogfather
listening: She Wants Revenge

My Students' Lives Matter | 2016 | A Trans-Girl in the Boy's Unit

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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