Stressed Out

Not much of a Twenty One Pilots fan, but something about this song stuck. (Most of the album, actually, but let’s not talk about that.) It’s the lyric, the repetitive chorus, “Wish we could turn back time to the good old days/When our momma sang us to sleep, but now we’re stressed out.” The first time I heard it, I swear that vocalist Tyler Joseph sang, “Wish we could turn back time to the good dope days…” and I guess that ages me. And I wonder if that epithet is even used by the band’s target audience. If some twelve-year-old is out there using dope in a sentence. And I wonder what sort of life a twelve-year-old girl leads that a song like “Stressed Out” resonates with her.

And you wonder what business a thirty-five—almost thirty-six—year-old man has conjuring up the thoughts of an adolescent. So I pull out the phone, select the appropriate icon, find the video, and pass it over to you:

Her name is Katelyn Nicole Davis, born February 20, 2004. Last fall, she would have started her first year of high school. May have attended Cedartown High School, home of the Cedartown Bulldogs. Last month, she turned fifteen though she remains, perpetually, twelve.

Replay the video. Once. Twice. So many times, there’s not reason to count. It’s not just this video; there are several from her portfolio that made it onto YouTube. It’s just there’s something about the “Stressed Out” video that keeps ringing home. Maybe it’s the weight of some of the lyrics: “I was told, when I get older, all my fears would shrink/But now I’m insecure, and I care what people think.” Or, maybe, it’s the fact when the chorus plays, I hear Shaun’s voice singing it from the backseat.

On December 30, 2016, Katelyn started streaming on in her backyard. She takes her audience on a somewhat silent tour of the her surroundings before she settles on a tree. She puts down her phone and steps off screen, leaving the audience with only the sounds of her fiddling with something, the roar of traffic passing by, and the dogs barking in the background. “Damn,” she says returning to her phone. “I need to tie it tighter.” It doesn’t take the audience too long to realize her intention when she climbs the tree and ties the rope around one of its branches. When its secure. When she knows it’ll hold, she turns her attention to the audience. Through tears, her words stream out. And she apologizes. Apologizes for not being good enough. Apologizes for hurting. For not being pretty enough. But what strikes the chord for me, she apologizes for the letting the depression get to her.

I juxtapose it. Her live stream suicide, clocking in at just under forty-three minutes, to her fifteen-second

Wish we could turn back time to the good old days…

You can’t make sense of it. Death never makes any sense. And it’s less so when the cause is depression. You can rationalize it all you fucking want, and I have and turned up empty each and every time. I poured through the screenshots of her online journals. Read the bits of information that have come to light. The bullying. The catfishing. The all the shit that pave the road for a twelve-year-old girl to commit suicide.

Waylon Jennings wrote a song entitled “Cedartown, Georgia.” And I wonder if Katelyn ever heard it, even if in passing. There’s a lyric at the end of the song that becomes haunting when I think of it now: “Gonna be a lot of kin folks squallin’ and grieving/ Cause that Cedartown girl ain’t breathing.”


Prelude to a Resignation

It’s 2008 and I’m staring a plastic bag. There are note cards strewn around the floor. Thoughts written on three-by-fives in illegible scrawl. I pick up one of the blank ones and write the words: “When the plastic bag becomes your enemy, your salvation.” I let it fall where it may. There are thoughts of leaving. Thoughts of running. Because, despite the fact we’ve broken up several times in the past, this time feels monumental. My emotional state became a dark alley, our proclamations of love scattered like discarded beer bottles and syringes. And it repeated. When the plastic bag becomes your enemy, your salvation. When the plastic bag becomes your enemy, you salvation. When the plastic bag becomes your enemy, your salvation. When the plastic bag becomes your enemy, your salvation. When. The. Plastic. Bag. Your enemy. Your salvation. It’s 2008 and it’s the year I honestly, openly, wholeheartedly contemplated suicide. Depression is watching the oncoming storm and knowing you should seek shelter, but understand that you can’t move. It’s the impact of a car crash in slow motion. It’s the clock, the wall, a gallon paint at three in the morning. It’s understanding the insanity of walking to your ex-girlfriend’s house at five in the morning, knowing she’s not home because she’s with the other guy, the goddamn guy you knew could be your replacement, and still doing it because you want to understand why. Why is it that she was in love with you one moment ago and not be the next? It’s watching your life, you actions, as the audience and the actor. It’s knowing that every you step you’re farther away from the point where turning back is an option. Depression is going over your every action like a sleuth, trying to see where you went wrong because there’s no way that it isn’t your fault. It’s 2008 and if I can’t be loved by her, what’s the point of going on? Depression is seeing a plastic bag as your enemy, as your salvation.

It seems like another life now. A movie whose title I cannot remember. Shaun’s six now and I can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere but here. Now. She and I created a testament of our love. It might have not lasted the way we both planned, but it lives on within him. A constant reminder of what we endured. Of what I lived through. Of what I continue living for. Depression is knowing your worth more, but not knowing how to get there. It’s understanding you’re in the middle of this show we call life. Depression doesn’t need to be the end game.

Five years ago, I had an idea. I chose to write my resignation letter. Not to a job. I’m not quitting. And not a suicide letter. There’s too much beauty hidden within the ugly of this world that’s worth fighting for. A resignation letter.

I formally and happily resign from the person I was before. I formally and readily resign from depression. I’m ending the relationship I have with the Voice. I resign from the world of ugly that has polluted my thoughts, haunted my dreams. I vow to no longer hold onto the past. But acknowledge there are demons that I must exorcise before I do so. These are my letters of resignation.

Her name is Katelyn Nicole Davis. Born February 20, 2004…



Shaun celebrated  his sixth birthday on Saturday. Sixth! Where does the time go, indeed. His slow crawl toward a decade on this earth is more of a sprint now. And still I’m in awe of his existence. I suppose the feeling never does pass. And it’s a good thing that it doesn’t, because a parent—a father—should forever be in awe of his child.

Things are falling into place. For the most part. This journey has been a learning experience. To say the least, anyway. What journey, isn’t? Though, as I listened to Izzy who’s no longer the Izzy of her childhood. And I listened to Ruben who’s different compared to the kid I meet all those years ago. And Justin who’s no longer the child who wandered the hallways of this house. I listened and smirked. Each has faced their adulthood in their own way. Each dealt a hand of cards and they played them well. Be it children or cancer.

I watched Jeanna enjoy herself. And, shit, I admire the fuck out of that girl. Love her to pieces. She’s the girl I chased for years. The girl I tricked into falling in love with me. The girl who gave me balanced for almost a decade. Wish I could say the favor was returned. But that time has come and gone. And it’s not good to dwell on what was, what might have been, and what’ll never be.

Dear Shaun:

Contemplation is great. Just don’t let it rule your life as the world passes you by. There was a time when I felt like you had to wait for that right moment to make your move, but that’s all romantic bullshit. If an opportunity presents itself in your life, you strike the first moment you’re given.

So here’s some advice from a man who’s waited. Find someone you love as much as I loved your mother on the day you were born. Find someone who loves you just as much. Find someone who offers without asking, and never wait for the question yourself.

Find someone who pushes you to better yourself, but loving you for the person you choose to be. Someone who supports you. And someone you support. Never stop inspiring each other.

And if, perchance, you find someone you’re willing to share your favorite type of cookie with, ask her out.


Under Construction (Ripped from the Journal)

If only I had the foresight to record your every word, every whisper, I could lie here listening to the sound of your voice when I need you most.

In my dreams, you speak to me in English. Find you waiting on the front porch. The sky moonlit and spackled with stars. You tighten your shawl with the passing breeze.

Prosopagnosia_AphantasiaWe found an old table top tape recorder which my brothers and I used to record plays we found in various books. Books were limited, so we ran through variations of the same plays. Princess and the Frog seemed our favorite. Each weekend we’d gather around, remembered our lines. Changed up the voices. Added our own SFX. High voices for the princess; low ones for the king; grumbles for the frog. As always, our best Michael Winslow impressions for the eating scene.

The final recording made years before you left us remained forgotten. Neither brother thought of it because by then we were respectively adult, post-adolescent, and coming-of-age. None of these cassettes survived the discovery of mix tapes, girlfriends, and our favorite radio jams. Not this one. No, by whatever power may be this one feel into the cracks only to find itself in my mother’s possession—you daughter’s hands. Not knowing it held a connection to the next world, the old lady plays it to hear the glees of a prepubescent me. When her children were sill children and her mother there to show her the way.

“¿Dónde está mami?” you say. And you sing. And you talk. And you call out for me. For Wilaso.

¿Dónde está mami?

Where did you go?

My son is too young to ask me what happens when we die. Do I spoon feed him the same bullshit they fed me? That there’s a magical place in the sky, but the man who’ll lead us there might want to touch him? Do I tell him he will come back as something greater? That we’re energy and energy never dies, just becomes something else? And what becomes of us after we’re gone? Just a static underlining to the cackling of children recording puppet plays. The sounds of our voices reduced to memory. And memories fade and die away. Until we no longer exist. Dying another death we’re not present for.