Sunday, August 9, 2009

Answering the Call in Nashville, TN

Answering the Call: Is there anybody listening?
Post From Ned V:
“Hey, sounds like me! I’m headed towards ruin quick. Hope all is well.”

Post From Ned V:
“I’m not good, Elyssa. Very depressed. I was such a different person when I knew you. But maybe I will be different soon.”

Reply from ElyssaD:

God, Ned, I wish we could talk. Based upon what I’ve read through your interviews and posts online it seems you are going through the same emotional chaos I was experiencing that first year we met in New York.

A friend just checked himself into a psych ward after a suicide attempt, and I feel so helpless. I care and respect you both so much. It is funny because I always thought if I could just finish that damn book I was working on ten years ago… or law school, my Ph.D.- any number of things- everything would be okay. I’m confused because you finished your book, Rob finished law school… yet I finished nothing.

A few weeks ago I “lost my shit”, so to speak. Then I read your interview and was completely blown away. I used to be the crazy one! Now I have my sanity back, but nothing else.

Having been through several crises myself, I formed the philosophy that when you see someone in crisis they become so overwhelmed and confused they do not know what to do, or how to dig out of the hole they have dug for themselves. I decided rather than asking, just figure out their first step and give it to them, no questions asked, no thank you necessary.

How many people have said, “Call if there is anything I can do!” and when you actually call, you receive nothing but disappointment and regret. I decided never to ask somebody what they need, mostly because even they don’t know.

When I came to the realization a few weeks ago that my transient existence is so tangential no one would notice if I never took another breath, I tried to figure out what I needed. I started going through my old journals to see if I could identify the missing element of my life. That “thing” that would simultaneously make it all goes away and come together so I could be a whole person again.

That thing is a figment of my imagination. I used to think it was being loved by a man. I had that, and it wasn’t it. Then I thought it was having money. I had that, but it wasn’t it either. I thought it could be having health insurance- still, no. Perhaps it would be having that “oh-so-critical” Ivy League degree. I have that, and it still wasn’t the solution. None of those things could have been “it.”

In truth, the thing I need most I lost long ago.


Perhaps I never really had it at all. I guess some things can’t be bought, learned, earned, or acquired.

I think of the long twisted road, and I remember one of my favorite childhood movies with a girl named Dorothy so determined to find her way home after a great storm. Disillusioned and distracted, Dorothy would not yield to the many obstacles that had been placed in her way. Determined to meet the great Wizard, she stuck to one path.

Yes, there were detours, obstacles, and the Wicked Witch of the West. Each of these obstacles may have taken her, yet she never once lost sight of the road home. She believed in one thing: The Wizard, and his ability to bring her home. Having great faith and determination, she never strayed far off the path of righteousness. Dorothy had a clearly defined goal, a means to get there, and a bright yellow brick road to guide her. Through her determination and unyielding faith, Dorothy never once doubted she was on the right path.

In the Wizard of Oz, the yellow brick road may have been Dorothy’s path, but her determination and blind faith was able to bring others along the road to enlightenment. The lion found his courage; the tin man got a heart. The scarecrow got some brains. Even Dorothy got what she needed most.

Dorothy began her journey looking for one thing: To get back to where she began, to find her way home. Dorothy teaches us a valuable lesson. Yet she was lucky enough to know what it was she so desperately longed for... home.

I can’t click my heels three times to find my way home, for sadly I know not where home is. They say, “Home is where the heart is”. Perhaps that is part of the problem. For some of us, our childhood homes were not places of happiness for which we’re nostalgic. They are places from which we run, endlessly seeking our own magical place, hoping we come across a road that clearly guides us toward our destination.

Of course we will encounter challenges that take us off course, and it is up to us to find our way back to the path. Unfortunately, if you stray from the path too long, there is a point at which we lose our direction and faith. As I grew older, I realized my feelings of detachment went far beyond a dysfunctional childhood or a broken family life in which my sister and I never even lived in the same house for more than a year, only in the summertime.

No matter how long I have been in Nashville, in many ways I am still a stranger. A stranger, because homeless is a state of mind. In my mind, I think home is a place of acceptance, shelter, forgiveness, comfort and recognition. For most, going home means to reconnect in a way you are reminded you have something or someone, who will always have your back. Home represents more than a structure; it represents a strong foundation always available whenever you need to safety and comfort, and protection.

So this is my home. I don’t necessarily feel safe here, but I do feel consistent. I do not have to worry that I will be forced to switch schools, neighbors or friends every six months because my parents could not get it right. What they failed to realize is just how very wrong it really was. Changing schools, friends, siblings… even myself- just enough to fit in each time. But after 16 years of constant change, I never got the opportunity to find out anything real about myself. Even my name was changed when I moved--- my dad called me “Liz,” and my mother called herself any number of last names as she desperately sought to hold on to her youth, beauty and delusional fantasies of entitlement and sacrifice. I think she may actually believe her lies to be true.

I never had plastic surgery- couldn’t afford it anyway- but I do have a clear memory, vivid nightmares, and a place of my own. I also realize that until I can live free from fear and dependence I will never be able to know what it feels like to be at home. If home is where the heart is, homelessness is just a state of mind. Today I have some hope I might someday no longer feel as homeless as I do at home. Now I know more than ever that home is far more than a concrete structure or family property.

I will always feel a bit homeless at home. Knowing you are that which remains constant, regardless of any dreams I may have, I will never feel constant enough to bring a child into this world, despite my desire.

I envy those who feel they have so much in their lives they can trust without reservations that the world is a loving enough place to share with a child of their own. My mother told me long, long ago that I can never have children. She also told me last year I could not have a dog. My own mother does not think I am capable of raising a puppy.

Maybe she’s right- she put her fears into action when she donated my cat of 14 years to an animal shelter under someone else’s name. I adopted him back from the animal shelter 40 miles away after learning of her use of another person’s name so I could not find him on my own. I was without any ties, and here we are again.

Only a few days left to come up with a plan to take the two of us far away, to a place where we could be safe and live free.

I will not look elsewhere to find the essentials things healthy children receive that makes them healthy adults. I will never be “healthy” but I do wish I could give more than that which I’ve received. I regret not being the kind of community member I believe I could have been, and I’m not sure I will get over the sheer humiliation of having to live this way for so many years when I could have been doing many great things for society that I believe I could have accomplished.

I can’t regret needing constant reassurance, recognition, or validation. However, I will always question if things would be different if just one person took the time to show me I was worth it. To say I deserved more than that I could afford and recognize I do give so much in so many other ways.

Ways people cannot calculate, or see how badly the recipients needed my gifts. It’s the little things. It’s Cody, its Desiree- but above all, it was me.
Setting goals. The feelings knowing I was no longer subject to biannual custody disputes. The realization that homelessness is merely a state of mind. You see, it is that I doubt myself; I just don’t trust people won’t do horrible things, even if that simply means doing nothing at all.

I do have much love to give, perhaps too much. So much it often pours out of me in inappropriate sentimentality. I know when I need to keep to myself, when my anxieties start rub off on others and make them a bit anxious. I know from seeing the reactions to my anxiety, and it only makes me worse. It can be a curse; can be one of my worst attributes, but sometimes that sensitivity is a wonderful and god given gift.

Should that prevent me from getting out into the world? Just because how other people think I should be take a disliking to me? That’s not my job. I have spent more than half of my life in self-imposed isolation, and the other half wondering how I can be less annoying and high strung so others would want me around. The truth is, I am annoying, but I am also perceptive and very aware. Sometimes it is even on purpose.

I should not have to live in isolation because I have nervous tics or sometimes say the wrong thing. But regardless of what people seem to think about welfare recipients being lazy bums, guess what? Fuck you. Because of attitudes like that, I have chosen to keep to myself in case I really am so horrible to be around. So horrible my own parents think I would be better off dead.

It would be easy to withdraw. To leave everything behind and simply go live an isolated life, dismissing those around me and the constant judgment by societal standards from those who have no understanding. But, where would I go?

Ten years “down the road” and now more than ever, I realize I am truly and deeply “homeless at home.”

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile


  1. I really enjoyed reading that, Elyssa! Heartfelt and powerful.


Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M.