By Jessica Doonan
Christmas arrived, inviting, consistent and warm with its sounds and smells. 7 months since my father’s suicide. 7 months since the fuselage of my life gave way, breaking open with the pressure of a thousand rivers, a thousand lies, a thousand truths none of us wanted to face. Breach was everywhere for a long time. Reality – elusive, poisonous, toiling. The summer peeled back my 30 years of skin and I was a single exposed nerve – nothing but raw feeling. From my December perch I looked back on the months – my descent into helplessness, into crippling grief and pain. My lucid self existed only on paper, all my goodness was abstract and misplaced in the illumination of so much loss. I had a throbbing phantom limb syndrome – I felt the tingle of the people I loved, as if they were still here. But when I reached for them, my fingers whisped through the weightless mirage. I wore the grief like a heavy gown. Reality had become a menacing, hostile stranger.
I grasped desperately for anything familiar, a voice, a scent, skin and sound that were recognizable. “Was anyone even left that loved me?” I thought pathetically, hearing my own internal monologue drown on like some poorly written Twilight fan-fiction. I’m too proud to be this pitiful, I thought. But my own attempts to splash cold water on my face, to get a grip, fell like fall leaves along with my sanity as August made its entrance. I started losing it, whatever it even was. Every step I took, the floor beneath me gave way. Reality is a chair pulled swiftly out from under me, I thought to myself, as I sat alone in my apartment. I obsessively touched my dogs fur, forcing myself to commit every sensation to memory, half-crazed with fears she’d disappear too, with the rest of it. Reality feels like the word crush.
It’s been a few months since Sierra and I could pull it together to write another chapter of Leaving Home. What she said in her first piece remains relentlessly true – we are traveling on a cobblestone path that’s still being built. September and October were vile, desperate months. I felt I was at the height of a fever that wouldn’t break, just a constant swelling of heat and sweat and delirious, rootless pain. I’d had my heart broken foundationally. Not just cracks in the edges, or a somberness to its beat. This felt like someone put dynamite in whatever soul or center or fucking chakra contained everything that made me real, that gave my name dimension and depth. I got in a car and drove to Phoenix, Arizona in desperate search of my mom and family. I had to start at the very beginning, relearn the basics: how to breathe, how to sleep, how to take care of myself. I’d been breathing in little sobs for months. My eyes had become so puffy from crying and barely sleeping, I started avoiding mirrors. I set small goals like showering or taking my dog for a walk. I mostly lay around the living room, listening to the sounds of my mom’s house: old movies playing in the background, my brother making his girlfriend giggle, my mom and brother’s terse but humorous exchanges. It felt nice to know there was a place I could go and feel the subtleties of home after Portland darkened and became a place I didn’t know. You know how in dreams, you know you’re in your house, only it doesn’t look anything like your actual house? My mom has always flagged this as a curiosity about her dreams, and I experience that too. Portland was like that after the brutal summer; nothing looked the same, people didn’t look quite right. It all fell apart again – what little there was left to fall apart. My sanity, my core relationship and my attachment to a city that I no longer belonged to. I thought I’d survived the worst of it by August, but I’ve become notoriously bad at assessing my well-being these past few years.
Sierra and I remained close, though we talked less. We were both in some meaningful torment, trying desperately to piece back together our old worlds. We didn’t have blueprints for this new world order, it was murky and cold, and everything around us seemed to glisten with the sharp fangs of pain. There was no clear or promising path forward. Our passports were set to expire in January, and neither of us could seem to muster the will to populate the two simple pages on the renewal form. It was so unlike us to let our ticket to freedom, our pass out of this world, fade away. But leaving the country didn’t hold the same glow it once did. In fact, nothing did. Reality was a wall neither of us could climb.
Reality has become my nemesis. My sparring partner. I was suspicious of it. I questioned it. I took note of its shapes and sounds and promised myself I’d accept it only after careful, thorough study. There was hidden truth behind every event, everyone’s words and actions. There was more to every story, and it overwhelmed me. I am often brutally dogged when possessed with an idea, and I felt there was something more to all of this. I wanted to know the hows and whys to every event that had blinded me with this caustic agony. I wanted to understand where my dad went after he left his bones. I wanted to expose the quiet truth behind the lies that broke my heart, but instead I was repeatedly mischaracterized, shoved into a tomb of words that protected another’s deception: Liar. Jealous ex-girlfriend. Dramatic. I wanted to know why Sierra felt like she felt, heard what she heard; I wanted to know in excessive detail the very origin of all things – life and death, sane and insane, happiness and anguish.
My leery observance of consensus reality merged with a lifelong enthrallment with theoretical physics. I stumbled onto Jon Hagelman’s lecture on Unified Field Theory, and listened with unblinking, mesmerized focus.
Is consciousness the ultimate reality? The quest to find the unified source, the fountainhead, of diversified reality, or nature’s intelligence, the origin of all the streams of the laws of nature that govern the universe at every level. Unified field is an ocean of pure existence. Pure abstract intelligence at the basis of the universe. It’s not inert. It is teeming with unmanifest energy. It is shimmering and reverberating within itself. It is infinitely boiling within itself. It erupts in effervescent bubbles of itself. Each vibrational state has a different frequency, represents a different tone. The music of the absolute. This universal field, this percolating intelligence, has the ability to percolate universes. Infinitesimal bubbles. Like ginger ale.
This lecture on physics and quantum theory sounded more like a preacher in a pulpit, but there were no religious leaps of faith welcome in this space. This was a matter of math. My mind made fiery connections and dazzled with corollaries to Sierra’s experience. She’d go into poetic interpretations of her life, how it would go on in perpetuity, long after her current body had expired. What the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) would immediately diagnose as schizophrenia, as psychotic, suicidal delusion – was accepted as fact by many cultures and communities outside of the clinical word. Religions of all kinds hold firm beliefs in eternal life, in a soul that never started and will never end, but bubbles up infinitely, ascending through eternity in different iterations of itself. The universe is fundamentally unified, and superficially divided Einstein is famously quoted saying. We are all one, one unified consciousness, a singular soul that never started and will never end, but is simply a law of nature. I listened to the physicist explain this universal consciousness, and how human beings stumbled into it from sentience. Like awkward teenagers, some parts of us grew before others parts could catch up. Too tall for such a baby face. The awesome truth of what we are too massive to wrap a human mind around.
Universal consciousness, God; teeming, vibrating energy. Life. Love. All one in the same, all spokes on a wheel pointing to a universal truth. Life and death, puny human concepts. And some of us arrive at this understanding of the universality of all things, at the illusion of individualism and the truth that we are all one being, experiencing each other through the limited lens of human subjectivity. The paths that lead to this realization are varied: transcendental meditation, yoga, prayer, LSD. Extreme emotional states. A severe and unwieldy attunement we idly define as madness. All just spokes on a wheel.
Reality is a blinding, blazing awareness that everything is one. That we are all the same unified lifeforce, peering out at each other from behind different colored eyes. Life and death, sane and insane, happy and sad – all different shades of the same color. The duality of all things weighed on me. Though psychosis may have touted brighter, more visceral shifts in Sierra’s perception, her profound comprehension of the essential truths were the same culmination that humanity has reached through multiple iterations. I was stunned by how crisply she described her reincarnated self, excited – or rather, ecstatic – at the thought of another cycle. I walked a tightrope between validating her beliefs, not far off from my own “scientific” conclusions, and accidentally encouraging her suicide. In the quietest, tiniest corners of my mind, I thought the forbidden thoughts. What if she was right? What happened to my dad after that shot rang out into the night sky? Is his essence – his being – still here because the illusion that it was ever contained in his individual body is just… an illusion? I kept these illicit thoughts to myself, like banned books shoved under my mattress.
The thing is, I felt his energy cling to me. Maybe because my blood is his blood. Maybe love, that eternal tether, is just expression or recognition of universal consciousness. Maybe I’m half-crazed myself, from the pounding disbelief. I felt the warmth coming off of Sierra’s words, the glow of pure, unqualified truth wrapped in epic metaphor. I wondered if in a different time and place, she would have written a holy book, articulating the universe’s secrets in ways that little human minds could comprehend. I wondered if some part of her had evolved, or perhaps attuned, to become a channel to receive this new gospel. They say if man were to actually hear the word of God, it would be so overwhelming with power and might that it would kill him instantly. I wondered if Sierra had stumbled into the hallowed word, or perhaps just a divine whisper, and its sheer magnitude was overwhelming her mortal mind and body. In the quiet, cramped attic of my thoughts, I wondered – which one of us really deserved to be institutionalized? Both? Neither? Reality is a flickering candle in the secluded room of my mind, casting shadows and shapes that could be messages, the outlines of deceased loved ones watching me from behind the veil, or nothing at all – just the sad interpretations of a shattered mind, grasping desperately for meaning amidst the loss.