Water in the air, Marcus’s story
This is not me trying to tell your story. This is not my story either. These are just some words I want to share with you. Some of them are big words and are hard to say. This is natural. This is man-made.
If you were ever so inclined, you could captivate an audience with your abrupt sense of humor, self-assured swagger, or dangerous athleticism. As an “OG” (older guy) of the “Love Sack,” I immediately looked up to you. You used to hide beside door frames and jump out to scare me. It was my freshman year at UC Santa Barbara and I was becoming an official “YG” (younger guy). I used to give you haircuts in exchange for beer. We lived together for the following two years with ten other remarkable lads. Never the closest friends in the house, always just boys.
I have this memory of us talking about depression and mental health in the context of a TV show. Neither of us said much, but in that moment, we uncovered each other’s secrets. We looked at each other differently. It would hit us at different times, and manifest into different behaviors. Often undetected, but sometimes I couldn’t see past it. It was omnipresent, yet a figment of my imagination. Our imagination. Each of our unsustainable habits and questionable decisions were adding fuel to fire. I imagined that only we could see it.
Halfway through my sophomore year, one of our mutual friends dropped out and moved home. It was unexpected. He told me his drinking and depression had gotten to be too much. A year after that, we had another friend who had a similar exit. No one was told the same details about each of their circumstances. You knew more than I did. A few friendships were lost for the wrong reasons. I remember some of our friends giving reasons why it doesn’t make sense. Or how it was selfish to not appreciate the privileges we’ve been given. I can understand how inconceivable these events were, but I know you understood what was happening. Their fires got too big. Too much fuel.
These fires were wild and inconsistent. They would look a lot different for each of us. Sometimes I would add a lot of fuel at once and say, ok, this is the last night. Sometimes it seemed like you’d be fine maintaining your fire forever. You would always attempt to be realistic about never letting it get in the way of your future. Sometimes I would avoid fuel, and google “how deal with fire.” Sometimes I would think that it was out, but then there was a new fire, and it was worse. You got worse too. There were times when the fire was bigger than we were. Sometimes we’d say fuck it, and keep adding more fuel. “Only in college.”
Remember when we ran into each other in the backyard at Teeth on Mission? Was that the last time I saw you? It was packed and we were with different groups of friends in the backyard. We both had jobs and were living in the same city. Feeling like adults, enjoying our young lives. You seemed healthy. We both did. I remember just laughing when I saw your face. It was like all the fires had been stomped out, exhausted, and forgotten.
Just a few days after, I was feeling confident and healthy enough to check on my ashes. I was inspecting for smoke or flames. I had a whole new fire-fighting strategy. I would use all my prior understanding of my fire and others’. I would be more precise about my methods for consuming different types of fuel.
It quickly began to get out of control again. I was back in it, surviving longer, but getting burned worse than I ever had. Buying more types of fuel everyday. Hiding the fire began just as difficult as fighting it. Somehow my job did not detect any smoke. On weekends I would let it be wild, let it grow. Going back and forth. Every Sunday night begging for a new version of myself this week. It doesn’t make sense. Why is it still here?
I slowly saw some of it turn to ashes. Some of it still burns. I am still good at hiding it. Getting stuff done. Working. Meeting people. Pretending like I am thinking about something else. Being with friends. Acting like I am celebrating, and not preparing to be a firefighter later on. I am still good at ignoring my intuition, and making new deals with myself. I am still good at finding the perfect amount of fuel. Just enough to keep me warm, keep me distracted.
I am learning how to feel the water in the air. Sometimes I find flames that I thought were gone. I am learning how to treat myself with love and forgive myself for my past mistakes. I am learning how to talk about depression and substance abuse with friends and family. I am learning how to help myself, and others, address and establish superiority over habits of thinking and behaving.
I am still in shock. This isn’t supposed to happen. I can’t keep playing along like this is normal. I also can’t pretend like this is out of nowhere. This is bigger than all of us, and although I feel like I can control myself in this moment, I know there are a lot of us who can’t. This is natural. This is man-made. Sometimes it helps to use my imagination. We don’t need to keep fighting fire. Sometimes we can make ourselves change. Talk to someone. Read something. Write something.
I wish you could read this, or I could read it to you. It’s been more than a month, and I still can’t look at pictures. Maybe someday I’ll read through our text message history. Thank you for your influence, and for being water in the air.
Written by Marcus Mason