Dylan Thomas convinced me to pierce me cartilage for my 30th birthday. Yes, that Dylan Thomas. The mid-century welsh poet who wrote so powerfully, evocatively: rage rage against the dying of the light. Do not go gentle into that good night.
30, apparently, is what my young eyes perceive to be the dying of light. So I pierced my ear to hold onto my wild. To pierce my soul once more with the fire of youth in hopes that the embers light and burn. I’m not ready to be reconciled to the way the world is. I see so much that needs moved and healed and tended the way a good florist coaxes her stems to beauty. I’m not ready to enter the years of middle age and settle into the patterns and rhythms of acceptable living and child raising. I want to learn (always), shift my perspective, and humbly admit I’m wrong (when I am). I want the light to be bright in my eyes and my life. I’m willing to fight and pierce my way toward that. So with that smell of sanitizing toner and plastic gloves, one deep breath, a puncture and a muttered word used most in New York, I fought the dying light. In three months time I’ll exchange the simple stud for a gold hoop. And in thirty years time I hope to not be going gently into that good night.
Dylan’s poem is most often read at funerals. Which makes it a good poem for my birthday. In my heart, I’ve long celebrated each birthday as my funeral. I’m not a “birthday person.” I’ve more often been alone fighting panic attacks than toasting with a gaggle of girls around me.
You see, a foreshortened sense of future is classic PTSD symptom. I always thought I’d die young. Thought is more euphemistic. It was a certainty as strong as any other. How I would die took different forms as my years passed and life changed, but the thoughts always made me tremble and dread the annual day everyone wished me well.
Before Ted and I got engaged, but after we knew we would get married, I sat him down one night and told him that he shouldn’t marry me. Instead of our typical evening of dry humping (as all couples who are committed to not having sex before their weddings do), I’d rolled into his arms on the couch and rested my head on his chest to talk.
“I’m going to die young. You’re going to marry me, I’ll get pregnant, and then I’ll die leaving you with a small image bearer of myself you’ll have to raise alone.” How macabre. But I meant it. I was heartbroken and inconsolable. I was so convinced of this future that I willingly released the man I loved most. It wasn’t rational; it was just a knowing I’d had deep down since I really could know and remember anything.
I lived years like this, never really telling anyone why I didn’t like birthdays. God bless that sweet roommate my freshman year who decided I was worth a surprise party. I walked out onto the roof of our dorm building with the Empire State Building right next door, thinking we were studying. I was so shocked and panicked by the sight of all my friends that I simply turned and fled the scene, and broke her heart in the process. Eventually I was coaxed to return and smile for her sake. I’ve always felt terrible about that, but couldn’t help it.
Ted, for his part, responded as any non-traumatized, husband-to-be would: he accepted that we wouldn’t be tangled in each other with our clothes on, and thought about what I said. He sought advice from friends, we started couples therapy, and he just decided I was wrong. He married me. We had our first child and I lived. And then we had our second, and I’m still here.
Ted’s been helping me, slowly and consistently resisting, denying, and fighting what we call my “death thoughts.”
Last night we put our boys to bed. When they wake up we’ll be flying to our first vacation since our honeymoon, without them. An unbelizable birthday trip. As I lay each sweet head down, through gritted teeth and silent tears, I kissed them and declared, in the name and love of Jesus and against the knowing in my body, that I would see them again.
I took extra anxiety meds, and then took off with my husband. We’re scandalized by how easy traveling is when you only have your own feet to worry about walking in the right direction.
We’re going to celebrate the 30 years my body has been alive. We’re going to celebrate the end of my 20s (finally!!) and the end of my decade of agony.
Cheers to still be here, despite all. Cheers to rage, raging against the dying of the light that threatens my soul. Cheers to not going gentle into that good night. Cheers to actually being happy to be here. Cheers to being wild and 30. Cheers to me!