Culture  Angels of the Get-Through: An Ode to Friendship

From "Isthmus"

I lift my eyes from the palms of your hands and I am comforted by your gaze. You envelop me in an embrace, squeezing me a little harder with each breath. In the depths of mental illness, where I often feel the world is an inhospitable place, you make me feel at home again. Home is in your patience. Its couches are your soothing touch. Its dining table is your silent solidarity. Its door, your words of encouragement.

On May 4th of 2018, I was reminded of our home, alone, in the audience of a spoken word piece, entitled “Angels of the Get-Through.”

Andrea Gibson, a queer Maine-born slam-poet, spoke to a small audience at Bar le Ritz. I listened to Gibson’s piece, written for their best friend, their face illuminated by the soft glowing string lights draped from the ceiling. “This has been the hardest year of your life,” they said.

My eyes filled with tears. I remembered when you answered my anxious phone call in the middle of the night, your few words housing me in reassurance.

“Best friend, Angel of the Get-Through…,” they said.

In response, I heard deep sighs all around me, as the audience fixated on Gibson’s homily on the importance of friendship. Looking to my right, I saw a young woman clutching at her heart, tears streaming down her face. I think of you, and the home we built, its wood panels waiting to catch me when I am so close to falling.

“You caught every tantrum I threw
With your bare hands
Chucked it back at that blood moon.”

As Gibson uttered these words, I remembered the times when my heart pounded so hard that I felt my mind was on the verge of implosion; when my body shook with sadness and rage to the point of nervous collapse; when my emotional short-sightedness seemed to stunt my ability to find hope beyond turmoil. With your bare hands, you picked up the pieces of my chaos. Holding me tight in your arms, not taking a second to consider how this time might perhaps infringe on your state of being. I throw myself at you with full force, and you are the cushion to downfall. A best friend is a warm, comforting buffer against the blunt, harsh externalities of the outside world. Often, you were just what I needed when mental illness threw me head-first into a seemingly never-ending universe, in which I feel defenseless, vulnerably exposed to outside weather. You are the walls that protect me from the harsh outdoors.

“You keep worrying you’re taking up too much space.
I wish you’d let yourself be the whole milky way.”

My mental illness makes me feel as if the world has no space for me. I always wondered why I couldn’t believe my parents when at my high school graduation they said they were proud of me. I doubted how I could have possibly earned the right to their pride. Mental illness is the nervous laugh upon being complimented by my coworkers, critical stares in the mirror when getting ready in the morning, and constantly telling myself that I am less worthy than my little sister. You remind me that the world has room for me, in a world where I am always cautioned to not take up more space than our male counterparts. You remind me that it is okay to break down, and that I am allowed to make my sadness be known to the world.

“You will never push me away,” you repeat over and over. I don’t believe you, and often put up a strong fight, but you stand rooted in your kind conviction. You are patient with my resistance, letting it wash over you as it comes in crashing waves. My depression sends my mind rippling, like movements in the middle of the ocean. I hate to swim alone, so you wade with me in the blue of the water, constantly affirming my worth both to you and the world.

“Best friend, this is what we do
We gather each other up
We say, the cup is half yours, half mine.
We say alone is the last place you will ever be.”

There is great comfort in feeling that the heavy weight of your trauma doesn’t fall entirely on your shoulders. When I told you no one could love me the way others love themselves, you held my hand. It is in moments like these that I feel the gravity of your compassion. Best friend, you are my lifeboat, ready to catch anything the water that overflows from my conscience. I feel safe knowing that my innermost struggles are protected by your roof, and that our rooms know the walls of my chaos. We are grounded by a shared understanding that we will never abandon one another. You take my hands in yours and tell me that I will never be alone. In my world, where I must attend a tumult of appointments, constantly fight with healthcare professionals, remember to take my antidepressants, and pretend that everything is fine, I am grateful that you stand with me, in solidarity. Your silent presence is worth a thousand words when it feels like the entire world is against me.

Finishing with a rendition of “Stand by me,” Gibson united their audience through the power of shared experience. Gibson’s words provide a gentle comfort, reminding us of things that we know so deeply to be true. They provide a reassuring picture of what we can accomplish, and what we can be with the help of a friend. The shelter of a good friend can mean the difference between life and death. Solace does not lay only in the sterile alienation of our institutionalized mental healthcare system. Intimate solidarity in a world that makes women feel inadequate in the face of mental healthcare providers are a human right. Everyone deserves the chance to swim alone in their own ocean.

This is to my ‘Angel of the Get-Through.’ Thank you for making me feel like life is worth living.