Part 1: Serial Suicide
The first time I committed suicide, I was eight years old.
Before I knew I was supposed to be self conscious about it, my nanny, Harriet, braided my hair. I loved the cornrows she decorated with beads. Bright pink. Neon green. Fluorescent orange. Swinging my head from side to side, the weight of their cheer freed me…until the other kids laughed. My braids and my beads, my wellspring of joy, suddenly a scathing sign of my otherness. What I saw, what I loved – ridiculed. I couldn’t wait to pull out the beads, to remove the treacherous bulbs, to silence their deafening accusations. “Look at me!” they screamed. “I don’t fit.” There was a strain of defiance, a whisper urging me to hold on to this piece of myself. But I couldn’t. I wanted to be accepted. I tore out the beautiful braids and threw away the conspicuous beads.
The second time I committed suicide, I was in the fifth grade. In that world, at that time, we were expected to fall into line and present as perfect – that is, to be like everyone else. I wish someone older and wiser had told me it was ok not to care. That not making it onto the basketball team would not be the end of the world. That I shouldn’t ignore my friends who also failed to make the cut, for fear of being associated with “losers”. Somehow perception of popularity was more important than laughter, than trust. I cared too much about what others thought. I deserted my friends and myself.
This stream of betrayal continued through high school and college, into adulthood. Every few years I killed off parts of myself in an effort to fit into a mould that could never hold me. Ironically, I needed to be held. Embraced. Accepted. I searched outside myself, to my own detriment, instead of daring self validation, self love, and self respect. Various iterations of suicide ensued. Each successive severing of the self rendering me more determined to finally kill off what remained.
But that’s the tragedy of childhood, isn’t it? Precious creatures are shunted and disassembled, only to reemerge as a shadow of what they could have been. Unless… Some children reclaim themselves after suicide. Some children are reborn. Kya Clark, the protagonist of Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing, is an emblem of such a one. For, though “life had made her an expert at smashing feelings to a storable size,” Kya transcends her dismal circumstances. Abandoned by her family, taunted by her peers, deserted by the system, Kya raises herself. Alone and illiterate, Kya is restored in the swamps of North Carolina. She is captivated by the rich life of the marsh. She breathes the birds. Her pulse ebbs and flows with the water. She is the “Marsh Girl”, as others pejoratively dub her, but for Kya, the marsh is her solace and protector. The swamp gives her life.
Connected to this tangible reality, Kya roams barefoot and stays rooted. She gathers samples of shells and feathers; she sketches insects, grasses, and birds; she learns to cook, to sail, and – with the help of Tate, an older boy and friend of her absent brother – to read. Because of her hardships, Kya blossoms into a beautifully rich and dynamic woman. If only she had been there to teach me the painful life lessons I desperately needed to learn.
Where the Crawdads Sing is a magnificent unraveling of sorrows, each poignant stab revealing a deeper layer of Kya’s integrity. Ultimately, Kya triumphs. Her story is humbling.
Part 2: Not Giving A F*ck
Man’s remarkable ability to change himself has been the subject of numerous, long running studies ranging from scientific research in neuroplasticity to anecdotal stories of positive affirmations. Present day neuroscientists are finally closing the chasm between “woo-woo” and science as they explore the connection between meditation, thought, and the brain’s capacity to heal. Yet, even with tomes of text, we humans seem to falter with the most basic skills. In his seminal book The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, Mark Manson delivers a succinct recipe for happiness and success that uncannily mirrors the way that Kya lives her life.
Treading the earth, touching the trees, attuned to the cycles of nature, Kya is keenly aware of what matters. While occasional trips into town for supplies sometimes unnerve her, Kya readily dismisses all that is inconsequential to her being. “You get to control what your problems mean by the way you think about them, the standards you use to measure them” (Manson). Kya does just that. She is able to stave off the effects of post trauma through action and self-actualization, tending to her needs as she embraces a spectrum of experiences. Her silent meditations in the marsh, her personal history of abandonment and abuse, her corporeality all speak to Kya’s sense of self and solidly ground her for unfathomable future joys.
Lacking the common distractions manufactured by our advanced and sophisticated society seems to ripen Kya for self discovery. As she unearths the mysteries of the marsh, so too she uncovers the values she holds dear. By necessity, Kya claims the virtues of truth, independence, and beauty. Her “values determine the metrics by which [she can] measure [herself] and everyone else” (Manson). She applies these metrics consistently, unswayed by what she considers to be false presumptions of bustling, city life.
Kya’s profound maturity and level of responsibility began as a child, before her mother leaves. Listening intently to her mother’s ruminations “[figuring] ma’s words needed somewhere to go…she absorbed them through her skin,” (Owens). Kya becomes a vessel and builds herself anew. She is not helpless; she devises ways to create control.
As Manson proffers, “it’s how you view your negatives, not your positives, that indicate self esteem.” Kya’s brave acceptance of adverse circumstances emboldened her to take actions that position her in a place of power, forever changing her destiny. I hope I can do the same, with consistency and grace, as I move forward into mine.
Manson, Mark. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck. HarperAudio. 2016.
Owens, Delia. Where the Crawdads Sing. Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group. 2018.