Hoping to Die

There was a time in my life when the land was covered in darkness. It did not matter what time of the day it was there was simply no light. I walked the world a ghost and prayed to any god that would listen that he or she would simply end it for me. I wanted to die. I wrote the below poem in remembrance of that time of weakness.

And there they lay. The tools of the day. A razor, a pile of pills, and a bottle of Tanqueray.

I have stared in the mirror for hours. All have gone to bed. With each tear has come resolve. We may as well end it all. I hate you. With a hand I gulp the pills, the bottle is already near. I gulp death’s companion. And to the left are the backup dancers.

A letter to someone… I hope… anyone?

Never there is a reply. I say this aloud now as the razor cuts once, twice, thrice… and as the ice cold water washes away my sight. I feel life fleeing from my nearing empty vessel. And suddenly a wrongness, a surrender of an opportunity? I do not know.

And as the light flees the coming darkness, all I can do is embrace the growing warmth.

People fail to realize that there is depression and there is suicidal. To me suicidal is the point you reach when you just don’t care. You could give a shit less about heaven or hell, they are one and the same because your life has become a living hell. It doesn’t matter how many “do gooders” speak soft words in your direction, you only see darkness.

I remember well that time still to this day. The feeling of that night, sitting online and telling a few “close online friends” that I just didn’t care. That it was time to see what the next page brought. I remember a feeling of finality when I shut down my mother’s computer. My steps were almost light as I walked slowly upstairs. Neither asleep, nor really awake… I walked like a man in a daze to my bathroom. I starred at myself in the mirror for what seems like hours and in those precious minutes I decided I was ready to die. I made that choice. I took those pills and I drank that bottle to the head and I remember smiling. Because finally I didn’t feel so cold anymore. The warmth of death was my friend that night and I was ready to receive him.

It changes you… that type of experience. It is nothing to brag about and many might feel ashamed of that type of weakness. To feel ashamed of being human is a shame in itself. I was human that night, but I am lucky my humanity failed to die.

-Opinionated Man

Jason C. Cushman

@smokendust

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Adopting Yourself – By: Jason C. Cushman

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The ironic part about being an adoptee is that the first and final steps of our lives are the same. Just as we must accept being adopted in the first place, we must also accept ourselves for who we are in the end. That acceptance, that journey, can take a lifetime to occur and not all adoptees ever fully accept who they are. Those people caught between the want of “what ifs” and the “hard place of reality” never fully live life as they should because they are stuck living half their life with regret. I have known that place myself and can recount times in my childhood when I wished for anything but what was real. I wished to be someone else.

Adopting yourself is a lot easier when you know where you came from. You have a starting point and regardless whether that position in life is a good one or not you still have something to build off of. Life is hard enough without feeling like you must add additions to a question mark. That is what it feels like for many of us that are missing years of our past as we are forced daily to build upon that emptiness that we often feel. The old saying goes to not build your house upon the sand and mentally I can relate to this analogy. When you pile memories upon clouds of hope sometimes those clouds explode and your hope comes tumbling down. That shouldn’t stop you from hoping, but as humans we learn to become wary of things that can potentially cause pain. Hope is a good thing, but it can also become the bearer of the worst pain imaginable.

Many adoptees encounter struggles with depression as they struggle with images of themselves. When you walk for too long in the land of depression you become numb to feeling and your daily life flashes like a fading memory. Only strong and personal moments are fully captured and those glimpses into our lives are often garbled by the mental struggle that we are enduring. Sometimes the memories are pictures without sound and other times they are words or phrases that stand out in the night. I have held depression’s hand many times and my head is full of glimpses of our encounters.

I remember one day when I was fully under depression’s influence and I was taking klonopin daily to fight the shadows of doubt over whether or not I wished to live. I was standing in the kitchen of my parent’s home staring out the window while it rained. I watched as before my eyes the rain suddenly stopped falling and hung midair as if nature had rebelled against its natural course. My father walked up behind me and saw me looking out the window.

What are you looking at son?” he said with concern in his voice.

I hadn’t realized that I had begun to cry. I looked at him and said in a near whisper, “the rain has just stopped midair Pop. It won’t fall to the ground. It is the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.” A week later I tried to kill myself.

It is easy to consider things in retrospect and to wish you had done things differently. I have many regrets in my life, but some of the hardest actions to accept from my past have been in relationship to my adoption. Actions I did or did not take when the opportunity presented itself, those are the memories that are on constant replay in my mind. It is a hard thing to live life by tracing the lines of regret from our past, but often in our depression we do this. We do this because the saddest times often outshine the happiest from our lives. It is far easier to focus on what we don’t have than what we do. That is very human.

When I was two years old my mother left me on a street in front of a police station. In the Korean culture this was translated into the mother no longer wanting the child. I was not alone though, I later found out she left me a hand to hold onto. A five year old sister I have since searched for was also left on that street to hold my hand and wait for a mother that would never return for us. She must have had half a heart though because she did come back for my older sister later on… but left me behind. Sometimes in the night I imagine I can still feel her hand. I often wonder if she remembers me.

I was adopted and sent by plane to a black and white world. At 3 years old it did not take long for me to realize I was in a world I did not fully belong. Growing up as an Asian American in the deep south of the Unites States is a challenge for anyone. That challenge is increased astronomically when you are unsure of who you are and what you are supposed to be. The only thing I remember being sure of was that I was different. My eyes were small, I was small as well, and my family wasn’t created from the cookie cutter mold of southern society. We were multi-cultural and at the time that was still visually a strange thing to see in everyday life. I found it hard to accept myself in a society that obviously did not accept me.

I found for most of my life I was forced to continuously adopt the image that I was. Growing up in a black and white world with almost no Asian friends was tough. I had no point of reference for what an Asian should look like, act like, or even just “be.” I can recall many days where I would return home from grade school and I would slam my door shut on society as a whole. A society that chased me in my dreams, a society that made me ashamed of my skin color. I would look to the sky and pray to any god that would listen to please make me a different race. Black… white… it didn’t matter at that point. What mattered was being accepted and I simply knew that I would never be accepted clothed in the skin I wore at the time. I remember praying for this many times through tears of confusion because I still could not comprehend why I was so different. I simply knew I was and I hated it.

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Jason C. Cushman

-Opinionated Man

@smokendust

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How the Bottle Drank Me

There was a time in my life when I was an alcoholic. Generally when I share this information people look at me and my youth and instantly shake their head. How can someone so young have ever had a disease that is always given a face of age, grief, and shame? What they see are the walls I have always surrounded myself with. What they don’t see is the soul inside that screams at those walls.

I entered the state of grief when I was rejected the second time by my birth mother. I count the reunion that did not happen as our “second time” because the first feeling of rejection had to be when she left my ass on a street at the age of two years old. Is there any worse way a person can reject someone? I suppose there is, but for a two year old I imagine your reasons are insignificant in comparison. I don’t remember the pain of that day, but when I compare it to the pain I felt during her second rejection I can only imagine. I became the man in the iron mask.

I found an instant companion at the age of eighteen for my new found grief as I went to college. It was neither a she or he, but instead wore a label of the day. The numbers mattered little because we didn’t need digits to connect. All I needed was a willingness to open the cork or top and a resolve to see the deed done. I became an expert at attempting to crawl inside a bottle and in the process I began to destroy my liver. It felt great to finally feel a pain to accompany the pain I felt within.

In 2003 I returned after my failed “prodigal son” journey and resolved to up my game. I was in such a hurry to reacquaint with the bottles of my life that when I landed in Memphis, Tennessee I didn’t stop. I hit the ground running and immediately jumped in my car to drive six hours to Knoxville. Once there I was able to hide my shame from those I cared to hide it from and in the same moment I found freedom at last. I was finally free to hate myself and the happy ending I would never have. I was ready to die.

At the age of 23 I was a full-fledged alcoholic. Some people will immediately ask me with scrutiny in their eyes “what do you mean you were an alcoholic? All kids drink in college and in their youth.” That is very true. Many kids do drink in college and normally their goal is shared. They are out to have fun or to release their stress. Drinking for me became an afterthought. An automatic-thought and action I would do daily and sometimes hourly. I woke up and had a scotch before the breakfast I didn’t eat. I went to bed forcing myself not to count how many it took to get me to sleep. It normally took enough that I couldn’t count them anyway.

I became the type of person I despised. I would walk into Joe’s Liquor Store on Poplar and buy the cheapest, rawest pint I could afford. Roughly four dollars and fifty-three cents later I would crack that bottle open while putting my car into reverse to head home. There was nothing cool about it. I just didn’t give a fuck. And that was how the bottle began to drink me back.

-Opinionated Man

Jason C. Cushman

@smokendust

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Stonewall Street

Stonewall Street was named after General Stonewall Jackson and is located in midtown of Memphis, Tennessee. My family loved this street so much that we lived in three different houses on the exact same road! In between the stop lights of Poplar Avenue and North Parkway lives an unwritten memoir starring an unsuspecting Korean boy in search of daily adventure. Countless tales of bravery, stupidity, and choose-your-own-backyard-adventure took place all around this block that was my life.

It is almost impossible for me not to reminisce about Stonewall when I think about my childhood. There were so many things, places, and events that occurred on that street that I felt were milestones in my life. I remember the first home we lived in and how small it felt looking back at it in comparison to the houses we later lived in. My father was a young doctor and we were new to Memphis at the time. The church we were a part of, St. John’s Orthodox Church, was also in midtown and so that is where most of the congregation decided to plant their roots. We grew up inside a city that we remained apart of in many ways.

I sometimes miss that old home and the countless pages of memories recorded there. I wonder if the new owners ever found the skeleton key I found and quickly hid under the third stone in the backyard near the dogwood tree. The same dogwood tree I would climb daily and from which I fell one day when the branch of opportunity I was hanging from suddenly saw the opportunity to break. That was definitely a memorable day as I gasped to my sister to “run get mom!” because I was probably dying. It was just another day in the life that was my life really. I wasn’t always getting into trouble, but sometimes it sure felt like the calendar turned according to my transgressions.

Lying there waiting for my mom I probably had time to spy the rope swing that wasn’t a rope swing next door. My neighbor was a carpenter who had a workshop behind his home. It was technically a second home in my book because the “workshop” was larger than my house… as was their main home. I sometimes suspected that the only reason anyone would have such a large work space would be due to actually being Santa Claus in disguise. I never confirmed my suspicion because he was sneaky and would leave for his yearly run when I finally fell asleep. I honestly to this day wonder how he knew whether I was asleep or not.

That rope swing got us into a lot of trouble. It wasn’t a rope swing at all actually, it was a pulley system to lift wood to his second floor. What eight year old would ever contemplate such a use for something that was obviously meant to be swung on across the large river of lava running beneath it? Isn’t that just an obvious prop for such an adventure? It seemed so to me until my idiot friend swung too hard and broke it. According to the Dragonlance code though I had to do the honorable thing and take the blame. I can’t remember whether perceived honor actually followed through or not that day…

I was lucky and fortunate that my next door neighbor was a kind man. Most carpenters are actually. I wonder if that is a jesus thing. Anyways, the reason this was such a good thing for me was because he was the source of all the wood I used to create my cache of weapons. In the daily life of Jason the Asian Dwarf weapons were a necessity for most of the plot line. Since my father was a doctor and totally against guns of any sort I became a lover of the wooden sword. It beat running around with a fake BB gun and the shed in the back was where I kept my weapons. The only way into that shed was with the skeleton key that I had hidden under the third stone.

I sometimes walk into that backyard mentally still to this day. I can smell the grass and see the dogwood trees in full blossom. I can hear the shouts of triumph, joy, and curiosity in the air as adventurous children roam from the front and back in search of a lost treasure or a lost cause. They walk and run with a lightness of foot that defines the freedom of childhood. I sit back and allow the memories to wash over me with an appreciation for those memories I still have. A time free of worry and concern over the past or future. A time when I was possibly truly happy. I look back and then I set my eyes forward on my own children as they live their moments without worry and appreciate the wonder of each moment. I watch as they create their own memories which they will consider in another point of their life, and I can only hope that they will treasure them as much as I do mine.

Jason C. Cushman

-Opinionated Man

@smokendust

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vLog – Poetry – Would you ever, if you never

Would you ever, if you never saw the stars.

Learn to dream in the dark away from the light.

Would you ever, if you never had a cause.

Fight for those that cannot fight.

Would you ever, if you never knew love.

Share a moment and create a memory.

Would you ever, if you never knew the truth.

Find peace at night and learn just to be.

Could I ever, if I never knew my past.

Find something worth holding and make it last.

Could I ever, if I never cared for you.

Find forgiveness for you too.

Could I ever, if I never knew the man I was.

Be the man I was meant to be.

Could I ever, if I never wrote again.

Live my life with no beginning or end.

Jason C. Cushman

-Opinionated Man

@smokendust

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Pages of Me

It is far too early in the morning to make decisions that last a lifetime and yet you did. You made our decision for us as you packed us away with our memories. I sometimes wonder if you held our hands as we walked away from the life we knew. Having little idea that we were walking the final walk, we approached the day like any other. Like any other…

How simple it is to walk through life when you have nothing but a name to hold on to. How difficult that life becomes when that name is taken from you and a different identity is given for you to adopt as you adopt yourself. I walked away an Ahn. I walked with you as a Korean and left your life a stranger. More strange now is the face and name I wear today, a stranger heart you have never known. A loss of name was not my first lesson in pain. That was yet to come.

We made our way through the morning streets of Pusan. Past the sights and smells I knew and had no clue that it was my last time to experience them. We waited in front of a building for a bus that would never come as you said your goodbye. Is parting such sweet sorrow when half of those that part have no inkling of the finality taking place? It was sorrow for us. How were you able to hide your tears as we showed you our fears?

My soul still waits for you in Pusan beside my empty heart. My right hand holds the shadow of your own and my left hand grasps for my sister’s in the night. The only thing left for me is a mind and it betrays me each day. Putting memories in the wrong order, placing hope where it does not go. I scream at my mind at the same time I miss my soul. I scream at my dead heart at the same time I miss a beat. I scream at your memory to turn around just once.

Just this one time.

~**~

I’ve never liked the sound of children crying. I’ve always avoided orphanages or hospitals when I can. Something about the sound of unhappy kids in a forced situation sends my mind scrambling to my memory box. I pry it open with hesitant care as I look inside my past. A past filled with those same cries in my head… only this time they are my cries, my screams in the night.

There are moments in life when you know you are truly alone. I have a feeling at some point I realized I was on my own when the only hand left for me to hold was taken from me. You came like a sneak thief in the night and stole the only companion I had ever known. You selfishly tore her from my side so she could remain by your side… to comfort you till you die. You killed me twice that day. The hope of seeing you again went without a sound, but the loss of hope of seeing my sister again did not go unannounced. I let the world know it with all my sound.

Left, but not forgotten. Adoptee, but not adopted. I remained in between the worlds I knew and a nightmare that had become my reality. My name was taken with my clothing and I was given a new role in life assigned by a number. To live life seeking something lost. To never know what that lost thing was. That was the meaning you left for me as you left me to find my way. A way that did not lead back to Eastern shore, but instead sent me to an unknown coast. A place where crying children are sent to learn how to cry alone.

~**~

A person can think about a lot while trapped with their thoughts at 40,000 feet. An airplane becomes a thought tomb and our bodies squirm for freedom from our metallic coffin. Fortunately for me I don’t remember my journey to America. I imagine I was very confused, scared, and exhausted by the time I arrived in Memphis, Tennessee. Many years later I would return for the first time to my homeland and experience what true culture shock is like when you are immersed into a society that is foreign to you. I assume that same feeling was felt when I walked off that plane into a white and black world and was introduced to my new parents.

America gave back instantly to this orphan. I am told one of the first foods I would eat were French Fries from McDonald’s and unsurprisingly I still love them to this day! My new brother gave me an unsure smile and a stuffed dog named Fluffy. I was suddenly accepted, but my journey towards accepting myself was just beginning. I left the airport Korean and walked into a world I knew nothing about. I only knew that everyone was excited about something and that something was apparently me. I couldn’t understand why their words were so strange and it wasn’t until after speech therapy that I learned what those abrupt sounds they kept making meant.

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~**~

The life of an adoptee is all about change, adaption, and trying to find stability. After the trauma of rejection runs its course we quickly find a need to find some type of stability through acceptance. I have seen what constant rejection can do to a child having had a friend who was repeatedly let down and rejected again and again. It wears on you and thankfully I didn’t know the burden it places on your heart until later in life. I at least found love and acceptance before finding out the pain of not being wanted once more.

When you grow up in a white and black world and you aren’t white or black it becomes a struggle to feel accepted. As a Korean with no Asian friends, I found I had little reference as to what an Asian was. Why we looked as we did, why people thought I looked differently at all, and why I had to explain my family constantly to random strangers. When your life is a puzzle you try and piece together a stained glass of your life. You grow to appreciate the whole picture of yourself including the tape used to hold it together. It only becomes difficult when people poke holes in your image and force you to adopt their own.

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and was quickly informed I was different. My mind plays tricks on me and memories flash of a yellow bus that picked us up on our street. I remember pencil breaking contests, a bully of a white kid that lived down the hill and pestered me, and going to my speech therapy class. I see bags of marbles and hear the sounds of CH and TH till I am tired of anything that resembles English. Through the learning and the growth of my childhood I never once considered that I was not yet truly learning about myself. I had time for that later I thought. What was there to learn?

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~**~

The birth of a tongue doesn’t occur when you are born. Your speech is learned when you are young and begin to communicate for the first time. This is the learning process of all humans and yet what if you allowed a child to learn just enough to know their tongue and then displaced them to a foreign world. What if you took everything they knew and forced them to learn a new reality?

I took speech therapy and language courses from a friend of the family during school hours. She came and tutored me, awarding me bags of marbles for lessons accomplished and well done. I learned how to unlearn Korean fairly quickly and with that transition I found a new American tongue. A southern tongue full of twang, ya’lls, and southern comfort. I began building within the person I was meant to be, but remained on the outside the shell of what I was.

It is funny because as easily as I learned to forget my culture I found it was much harder to relearn it later in life. To reconnect with what has been trained out of you and to find yourself in a memory that was never real. That is what life sometimes feels like as adoptees stare at themselves in the mirror and what they have become. Are we truly a picture of our true selves or have we become instead a product of our path in life. Is there really a difference? I still don’t know the answer to that question.

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~**~

When you are adopted as a young child your life is not all about adoption. It only becomes centered upon that reality when people make you realize you are different. That your life isn’t “normal” and you aren’t where you are supposed to be. That is when the walls of security we have built come crashing down and we seek a new safety blanket only to find that there is none. There is only the power of acceptance.

I remember a steady path of incidences that reminded me of my adoption. They appear like stepping stones in my mind and many of those points in time are pain points of mine. I think the hardest part for an adoptee as they grow up in a foreign country is finding not only acceptance, but also understanding. Seeking, searching, striving to find someone that can relate to your struggles… that might be able to understand where you truly come from. This is the reason why many adoptees find solace and comfort in communicating with other adoptees. This is also why so many of us take rejection so hard because we have never fully recovered from the first rejection in our life.

In a smiling world that believes you should smile all the time, I found my smiles where I could. My family life was real life and not the thing of Disney tales. There were smiles, tears, fears, and laughter growing up and I have fond memories of my early life in Jackson, Mississippi. I remember being different, but I also remember growing to love this country I now called home. I am thankful that someone above thought I needed a break finally and allowed me time to heal and to grow. Remembering all the while that I was not an adult yet, I was still a child that wanted only one thing. To be wanted and accepted finally.

 

Jason Chandler Cushman

-Opinionated Man

@smokendust

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Visit my personal blog at https://aopinionatedman.com/

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