A Book of Triggers – By: Jason C. Cushman

If I were to imagine a book of life it would best be described as a book of triggers. For what is life other than a slowly revealed circle of need, want, and more need? My book of triggers has always been my journals that I have kept throughout my life. Triggering thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the moment laid to permanent rest by drifting pen. At rest, but never sleeping, they are active memories that swim before my eyes even still as I read my life from dried ink. Is there a point when life can finally be accepted and we see a trigger no more. No, I think not.

I have lived my life balanced on the knife’s edge of emotion. Being far too sensitive as a child, I carried much of that pain because of my inability to ignore pain. To ignore the barbs of life that found welcoming flesh every time within my body. Within my soul. Is there an MRI for the soul and what would the picture of mine look like? I imagine my soul is much like me. We would not appreciate the eye of such scrutiny or the nakedness of such honesty. We would instead turn in upon ourselves, as we have always done, seeking the shell that God never blessed us with.

I write my triggers because I recognize they exist. They are as real as the scars that mark my skin. Denial is a luxury I cannot afford anymore and maybe never could. After my first suicide attempt I realized that I very much hold the ability to deny. I could ignore the sun until it burned my face. Actually that is an apt analogy considering I still remember the burn of bile coming up my throat as my body fought desperately to live. I do not take credit for such actions. A white flag of acceptance hovered above my falling body during this point of my life. Falling for I had indeed fallen to the moment. There was never a clearer time in my life as my body fought to live through my stupidity and that is ironic still to this day. To me the sadness that fact brings is the largest trigger of all.

We cannot live our lives cringing from the sound of every trigger we step on. Instead that sound should become like music to our ears as the cacophony of reality impresses upon us the reality of our conquest. We are taught now to ignore triggers and to steer clear of even the subject. In our politically correct society we are forced to forewarn people that “trigger warning” the words written here might actually mean something to you. Might actually affect you in some way.

When I look over my shoulder I do not see a past presented by picturesque Monet created pathways. Instead I am assaulted by the rawness of Memphis city streets alive with the power of memory. A painting littered with forgotten words and stained with pain born tears. A painting of reality is what my past presents and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I wake up to a trigger each morning. A Korean face looks back at me in the mirror and no matter how many times I splash myself with cold water, still the same slanted eye, half smile appears. It must be me. It has to be me. And yet that introduces the second trigger of my story, the power of acceptance. To accept what does not feel right, to be forced to be who you don’t think you are. Who cannot relate to such a feeling for differing reasons? The world is a melting pot of such forced persuasions as we are each told who we are and what we were meant to be.

I think the saddest part about my first two triggers is that they were decided for me. They were part of a path connected by an action one cold morning in Busan, South Korea. A morning when a mother decided she no longer wished to be a mother and in doing so she placed around my neck a necklace that did not hold a locket of love. Instead it held a golden trigger upon which was written a name. A meaningless name which was never to be used. A name that I sometimes wish I was. Ahn Soo Jin.

It is amazing how much meaning a name can have and yet not have at the same time. I suppose much of that has to do with acceptance of what that name truly means. We are given words to mark us as singular in an overcrowded world that will rarely see you as an individual. Who does that name mean more to? To an adopted child a “given name” is simply another tab in our adoption file. Particularly if that child is Asian and adopted into the United States because most of us are forced to have our names changed. Our “given name” becomes an amusing item of memory that we sometimes fondle late at night as we look to the East.

My Korean name is more than just a trigger because my birth mother gave it to me. I am constantly reminded of the holes in my past when Koreans shake their heads and exclaim “that is a girl’s name!” So we can at least pinpoint where my love of alcohol came from. She had to be drunk to name this Adonis of a man a woman’s name. What was she thinking? Did the orphanage mix up my sister’s name with my own? Dominoes of life fall with a clatter as the inevitable line of questions rattles off in my head. I cannot stop them. I allow them all to fall and run their course. Stopping this line of thought simply bookmarks my pain for a later time of contemplation. I rip off quickly the band aid of life to get it over with.

I have long since placed my Korean past in the closet it belongs. It is only revisited when society tells me I should reflect on certain days with happiness… such as mother’s day. People often say that Christmas is the worst time of the year for them and that depression always seems to rear its head during that holiday. For me mother’s day is the most depressing of all holidays. My depression no longer “rears” his head when he hears of this joyous annual occurrence. Instead he grumbles and mumbles. Only the attentive can make out the words he repeats over and over. “Fuck mother’s day.”

I do have an appreciation for mothers and fathers and I have my adopted parents to thank for that. They were great role models, provided for me, and even more importantly were supportive during my adoptive search. They never once tried to hinder what must have seemed like an inevitable train wreck and neither did they belittle me with advice on a topic they had no experience with. That is something many adopted kids forget is that there is no guide for their new parents and mistakes will be made. The love and compassion though that it takes for someone to take a stranger, even a child, into their home is immeasurable.

As I have grown into my new role as a dad I have found moments of pause. Times where I wonder about the man I will never know, nor have any desire to meet. Whenever I walk into a doctor’s office and fill out the family history survey with a large N/A I sometimes catch my eyes rolling… as much as Asian eyes roll. I wonder how many times I will have to explain my own confusion and lack of answers to the world. When entering the military I had to be cleared for my Tops Secret clearance for the Air Force. I remember my mom telling me that the investigators were at their house and kept asking about my birth mom. One of the agents said “well we will need to speak to her. How can we be sure he is really South Korean?” My mother responded “well when you find her tell her that her son says hello.”

Growing up the only Asian idol I had was Bruce Lee and unfortunately I really didn’t start liking him until college. I instantly connected with his struggle to prove to his own country his worth and how that drove him so hard through his movie career. I wonder if other displaced children have day dreams where they return in triumph to the homeland that rejected them. Maybe they return as the adopted child of the President or they become the next Korean boy band sensation. Instead we live in a reality that never fully accepts us and we in turn never fully accept it. Living life between two shadows of want is a sad way to live.

~**~

-Opinionated Man

Jason C. Cushman

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@smokendust

The Day We Killed Jesus

As I grow older I sometimes catch myself lost in reflection upon specific times of my life. Usually when this happens it is a pain point I am revisiting as I ponder a decision or lack thereof I have made during situations in my past.

His name was Josiah. We laughingly called him Messiah because that is funny right? Well it was to a bunch of teens and we were on the younger end of that category. Much of what occurred was bullying, but it was done in the innocently, vicious way that only teens know how to do. We teased and mocked this kid that we only met on church retreats when our churches would come together on some mountain… hill, or in the middle of a bunch of trees and camp. We slept in cabins, discussed the scripture, and were supposed to find comradery during these times.

When I reflect on these trips and more importantly Josiah, I feel like he probably dreaded coming to them and that was a shame for someone who obviously valued our faith. I stop myself from thinking that way because I don’t know for sure and it really does no good to burden one’s self with guilt if you aren’t sure you are guilty. I can say that I am somewhat ashamed that a boy going through his own journey of self-realization couldn’t recognize another person who was doing the same. More importantly my own experiences receiving daily bullying from my differing cultural surroundings did not create any sense of understanding at the time of what I was taking part in and that it was wrong. Like I said, we were children and children can be some of the most evil creatures on this planet when it comes to social drama and interaction.

I place constant teasing, mocking, or putting people down as a form of bullying. It is a pretty common thing and most adults won’t even be aware it is happening because they are all “inside jokes” and you all aren’t inside. This is particularly true when it comes to small groups such as “youth groups” in churches because depending on the religion those communities can literally become islands unto themselves. I’ve reflected some on this in previous posts about our Orthodox faith and culture, and how my family was fully immersed in it due to my father being a priest. I sometimes wonder what life would have been like outside of that bubble culture. There were some definite perks to growing up within such an environment, but there were definitely some downsides. One in particular is that you were stuck with the same friends (also known as church friends) for as long as they were a part of the church. Literally. Those became your best friends even if some of them weren’t. Even if most of them weren’t. I had my close friends or best friends, but it wasn’t everyone my age as was expected.

We were all expected to get along. We didn’t. There were different groups, different leaders… sometimes one leader. It was like Game of Thrones without the thrones. I did not know Josiah well at all. I simply knew he was an overly pious kid that expressed an interest in being a Priest or a Deacon. We would tease him about that of course because his name would have to be Father Messiah. It gets funnier as you say it I promise. We never physically harmed the kid, but I don’t think we were ever really nice to him. You see he was from a different church. He wasn’t part of our click and because of that I could not recognize the demons that haunted him. Many of his struggles probably mirrored my own, but I never once saw that.

My mother and father told me one day that Josiah had killed himself. My first thoughts were about the afterlife and how suicide might affect ones chances of entering Heaven. I was sad to hear about him die, but I didn’t recognize any part in it. I only saw the kid for a week of each Summer and it wasn’t consistently each Summer at that. Whatever happened to him must have been due to his everyday life. Something in his family or school. I quickly moved on and didn’t give him a second thought till later in life. It was only after knowing personal pain and struggle myself, after one suicide attempt and a few years of living life just not giving a shit. It was only after knowing what it felt like to want to die that I began to reflect on Josiah once more. And now I know that the day he died was the day we helped to kill Jesus.

Jason Chandler Cushman

-Opinionated Man

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1/12/2016

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The Night of the Big Game

It is a Friday night and I am just now getting ready for the school football game. It is my sophomore year of high school and things have changed somewhat. My friends and I are able to drive, life is a little bit more fun, but the bullying still exists on a frequent occasion. I yell that I am leaving to my mom and rush out the door to my waiting friends and the feeling of freedom and the lack of adult supervision for a few hours. It would be a long few hours.

I don’t remember much of the game, which is odd because I rarely went to football games or large school events as it only invited more opportunities of conflict. I recall it was a nice humid evening, in Memphis, Tennessee, as we pulled into my parents house. I remember the familiar double beep of the alarm as I opened the door. In front of me was the door leading to the pool area of our home and to my right was my mother crying. Wait, why was my mother cryjng?

“Mary is dead,” she says as she rushes to hug me. Shock… I didn’t even cry when I heard the news, possibly because I did not want to believe it. I stored that sadness for later.

Mary had been living with us for the better part of the year of 1998 while she “reorganized” her life. She was smart, witty, had a great sense of humor, and a smile that could slay a room of men. She was from Jackson, Mississippi, where I had grown up and my mother’s hometown, Mary’s mother was my mother’s good longstanding friend. The other connection was through our particular sect of church which had a close knit group of friends from both cities, many of whose parents had gone to college together. Mary was important.

For a kid that had few things going for him, the attention she showed me was amazing considering she was in college already. To a sixteen year old boy, who’s every friend both in school and church was murderously jealous of him for being able to see her every day, this was a huge deal. And now all that was gone. I have a couple special memories with her, oddly enough both involved smoking cigarettes. My always “good for bad habits at the time” brother had introduced me to the joys of nicotine, so I would sneak out and have one on the occasion. When Mary arrived the first week she offered to drive me home from church one night, she had a white Pontiac Grand AM; I will always remember that car, so we drove off and as soon as she hit the corner she had one lit. I laughed, and when she glanced at me in question I made a gesture for one to which she gave me with another surprised look.

“Yea, I thought I had caught a smell of smoke the other night, but your perfume does a good job of masking it,” I said with a grin.

“Just don’t tell your mom,” she replied with her memorable laugh.

The second memory is stronger, Mary had been dating my best friend Tim’s brother for a few weeks, but one night she rushes in my room. “I need a cigarette so bad!” she cried with a dramatized sigh. “Quiting for Michael not going so well?” I say with a chuckle as I fish mine out. “No it is not, but I don’t want to leave the house your mom might wonder.” It quickly becomes apparent that with the help of my sister our best option was to climb out one of our second story windows and smoke on the roof. It is one of my best memories of her, maybe of my past, I have. I remember feeling free from my troubles that very minute as we smoked our Marlboro Lights, and for a boy with multiple internal and external struggles going on, this was a blessing.

“They are saying they think she was hit by a drunk driver on the way to visit her mom,” my mother says with a sob. Mary had left that morning. My sister and I had come home to a handwritten note left in our shared upstairs living room telling us to be good and for me to be nice to my sister. It was the type of thoughtless gesture that still touched your heart that Mary was known for and I don’t mean that in a frivilous sense. Her smile could have brightened your day.

We are in Jackson, Mississippi at our old church, Mary’s church. It is a strange thing to know everyone at two seperate churches from different cities, but my family does. My father is a Priest, an assistant pastor as he is a full-time physician, so we are forced in a sense to know everyone. I walk to the church doors and I see her coffin. I have never seen a dead body before, is her body ruined? It is my first real encounter with death and I have still not cried. This is possibly one of the two sources from which I learned the lesson of “delayed pain.”

I take a deep breath and walk in. As I approach her body I can feel eyes on me. Everyone knows that she was staying at our home, everyone knows who I am, but most don’t know how this girl, this woman, made an uncomfortable, depressive Korean kid feel like the world might be ok to live in. No one knew that her friendship was like a physical hand on my soul, comforting. As I approach her coffin and I see her face, so pale and still, I am suddenly angry. Nothing good lasts, is my thought as I turn aburptly away and stride quickly down the center aisle and out the door.

It is even more humid and hot in Jackson, than it is in Memphis. I am sitting on the steps of the church as my Godfather, my best friend Tim’s dad actually, comes out to see if I am ok.

“You really cared for her, I know son, it is ok to grieve, ” he says while laying a comforting hand on my shoulder. I tense, for I do not normally like to be touched, but from him it is ok. From him it was a trigger.

I begin to cry.

For Mary, Memory Eternal 1998.
-Opinionated Man

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Another Year

Dear,

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I close 2016 with a period.

Not a comma in hope that something additional will be added.

Instead another period of ending, a finalization of an additional chapter called two thousand and sixteen.

Remember when my endings started with hope. A promise that perhaps the next day would be a new day.

Remember when we could still feel the presence of one another? A stranger’s beating heart that I strangely felt.

It was your heart I once felt and could feel each night. It was the power of hope that let me feel it.

With each closing year comes a final period.

An ending against an ending that I never want to read again.

And so we close 2016 again with a sigh.

A period that never ends, a period that never dies.

-OM

44.1

@smokendust

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Dear God

Dear God,

Please allow my Broncos to stomp the living shit out of Tom Baby and the Patriots. It is all I want for Christmas. I also hope the right balls are deflated this time and Brady exits the game with a whimper. Maybe even a cry.

Amen.

Jason

-OM

Pain Born Tears

Pain born tears never die.

Instead they slowly seep inside.

Watering hidden graves within.

Waking sleeping demons again.

At night they come out to play.

Upon a field of tears that stay.

When does sadness finally die?

When tears stop falling from waking eye.

Accepting pain for what it is.

A part of life that I miss.

-OM

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