Contextual Camouflage

First Person stories surrounding mental and behavioral health

Downtown Map of Pittsburgh. Click to participate.

Jason McKoy of Wilkinsburg (pictured above) spearheaded the effort for Storytellers to tell an honest and open account of their own experience with mental & behavioral health disorders. He wishes to make the art installation and website more personal and relatable, to combat any stigma, and to lift up those living with mental health disorders. Please read his own personal story on Public Source: “Depression is not something a black person necessarily grows up understanding. I didn’t until I had to.”

Contextual Camouflage aims to transform research into a living narrative using a web based application, GIS technology, and user input to paint a picture of the prevalence of mental disorders in the community. The project will show that anyone, anywhere around you could be living with a mental disorder and you wouldn’t even know it, whilst also showing those that live with mental disorders that they are not alone. We will also provide educational, outreach, preventative resources for the community.

Below are four unedited bios and stories as told by the storytellers themselves at the launch event of Contextual Camouflage on April 27, 2018, as part of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Spring 2018 Gallery Crawl.

Amanda Filippelli

Amanda Filippelli. (Click to see her website)

Before becoming a professional writer, I worked in mental healthcare for close to a decade. I was responsible for creating and implementing therapeutic programming for a unit of adolescent girls, most of whom were victims of trauma. The biggest problem I observed was that these kids didn’t feel heard; they didn’t feel understood; which is a common feeling among adolescents, but compounded with mental illness and behavioral health problems, feeling unheard and misunderstood was causing these kids to act out violently, both towards others and themselves. Because writing has always been my most valuable coping mechanism, I began implementing storytelling workshops to help these girls take control over their own narratives, and immediately, I saw results. I saw, first-hand, the true healing power of storytelling. Knowing that I needed to better educate myself as an artist and as a counselor, I went back to school for English Literature and Creative Writing, quit my job, and began two separate businesses, both aimed at the goal of helping others tell their story. After all of this, last year, I found myself in a deep and unrelenting depression. I was anxious and irrational, and though everything in my professional life seemed to be going right, I couldn’t feel it on the inside. I had spent the better part of a decade teaching other people how to tell their story, encouraging them to have the bravery to be transparent about their lives so that they might find healing through connection with others, and here I was, drowning. It was time to take a dose of my own medicine. This was how my book, Blue Rooms, was born. It is an exploration of my own journey so that others might explore and relate to it on some level, and it is important that I make my own story public to serve as a model for my mission; to help break down the misconceptions about what mental illness looks like or how it functions; and to show that anything is possible with positive support.

I have been a writer my entire life. But my journey as a writer began by using writing as a coping mechanism to help me try and figure out the chaos that was going on inside my head. As a little girl, I was obsessive, compulsive, depressed, and anxious. It seemed that was my natural disposition, and sometimes I just couldn’t make sense of the world around me.

E.S.P.

Ghosts linger the lines of our bodies// I see them eclipsing everyone’s shadows/ dancing around their heads/ mocking them// My teacher is cupping his hands/ saying something about kinetic energy/ but I am distracted/ and angered by the wispy jester spooling his toupee// Are you alright? someone asks/ because my cheeks are clawed and I am slipping into the room/ beneath the floor/ into the pit/ mud-logged and heavy/ I am alone// It’s just who we are, my mother says/ Special vision, she says/ so when the little boy in my head sends smoke signals/ I take a bath to cool off/ feeling guilty that I cannot save him/ or myself/ because I don’t know where we are/ because this is who we are/ dampened and reeling/ with no less ambition than the other kids/ just an extra ocean to cross in our minds in which to drown in and resurface/ to die and live/ never breathing because we are made of ash and sacral bone/ and meant to one day steer currents that rip the tide out from the world with our special vision.

By the time I was twelve, I had learned to live with the incessant feeling of panic that enveloped my mind. I stuffed it down and away; took it out on myself to feel some relief; learned that I was just strange, unusual, and different than my peers. I didn’t want to scare my parents. I didn’t want to disappoint the people that loved me. I didn’t feel like I had a right to be depressed or anxious or obsessive. But the more I pushed it down, the better it thrived, and the darkness brewing inside of me wouldn’t be ignored.

When My Throat Eroded

My throat eroded when I was eleven/ right before my period came// I choked first at the dinner table/ shredded chicken/ salt mine-lodged gullet// You screamed out/ you cried/ you beat my back like a meat-bludgeoning hammer/ and I clutched marble and metal and wood floors until I choked out that chicken/ spilling blood in the kitchen// Nothing was wrong with me/ I just needed to be more careful when I swallow.

When I choked in my sleep/ you got really scared/ but I didn’t remember/ throttling zombie in your doorway/ mid-night/ straight-faced hacking while watching snowfall past your bed// There wasn’t any chicken in my throat/ it had just closed up/ trying to snuff me out/ or wake you up/ or maybe something had grown in my esophagus/ I don’t know.

But I’d wake up for brief moments/ just when the choking stopped/ and I was coming up and out to take a breath/ in the bathroom/ stretched back off my feet/ dangling heels/ in your arms/ when I fell/ and we thanked God/ and tucked me back into bed.

I choked for a whole year/ and nobody knows why/ and everyone tried everything/ tests/ prayers/ exorcising it out/ and when I protested/ when you had to pull me by my hair and my grit/ you were all convinced/ there was the demon living in my throat/ the answer we’d all been looking for/ a dancing horned fool/ pulling my body on strings/ making me heave/ dry air.

But that wasn’t it at all/ because what makes you think that the devil cares about my breathing/ or that he is breathing/ or that I wanted to live at all.

What makes you think/ I didn’t wrap my windpipe in wishes/ didn’t cinch it close with my mind’s eye/ during the only time of day I felt safe choking/ night.

The demon you were looking for came later/ and I knew she was on her way// Sanguine queen rummaging in my ribs/ clawing up my licorice spine/ and out of my throat/ water-whipped funnels/ coming to tear it all down/ making a martyr out of me.

I learned on my journey that I wasn’t the only one. I learned that I had come from a long line of women with similar mental illness; that I was born of a lineage plagued by depression and anxiety. In a way, this normalized it all. It brought me to a place where depression and anxiety and compulsion came to define me as both a person and as a woman. This is just who I am, I thought. This is just who we are. In some ways, the commiseration made me proud of my new-found, sick identity.

Pagan Song

My grandma said/ When you were born/ I was scared of you// The blackest of eyes/ the deepest stare into my soul/ trying to figure me out/ then she sipped chardonnay/ mother’s purple-stained merlot lips parted and pursed.

My grandma said/ What is this excess/ squeezing a chunk of my hip/ my mouth mulled wine/ spilling down my chin/ I am a fat puddle/ drowned.

My grandma said/ All men look at dirty pictures// All men think of women like lockets/ shimmery on one side/ ready to be turned over/ cracked open and emptied/ lost heirlooms/ tangled in a shoebox sold under value at your dead aunt’s estate sale/ wondered about like wisps/ ethereal/ mystically fancied and imagined upon through made-up stories about pearl dust and pressed skirts.

My grandmother said/ Let her be depressed// Leave her alone/ because I get it// We live in blue rooms in this family// We are shadows in the corner/ pagans of the dark side of your mind/ real witches with sixth and seventh senses/ saved by God and purified by Mother Mary/ swimming in the wallpaper with a rocks glass and a smoke/ perfectly imperfect/ no matter which way you interpret us/ we are right/ we are in/ we are you/ but we are more/ because you are not us.

My grandma said/ she does it best/ but she’s not all that good at anything/ but your mother/ your mother/ nobody can choke like your mother can/ that’s hers/ so when I slide it down and it’s cold on my throat/ I cough lightly to clear it down into my belly/

I hold/
I hold it all/
it’s all in me.

It couldn’t last that way. Having my identity tangled up in sickness and depression left me reeling as an adult. I couldn’t stand the cycle of it anymore. I couldn’t stand the constant spiral, the self-destruction, the hopelessness of believing that depression and anxiety defined me. I couldn’t stand what it did to my relationships, because I spent a lot of time seeking out people who couldn’t love me, because I felt like I didn’t need it or want it. Every drop of truth I thought I knew about what it means to live with mental illness dissolved in front of me, destroying who I thought I was.

Time Is a Palindrome
I feel the sickest when I call you home,
I am missing so many days,
chalked up to crystal and ice
and sacrilege incantations.

I licked up all that we lost
and drank it down, listened
to it buzz in my head,
forgetting all the secrets that I told you,
plaster-chipped chest cavity
heaves in the sunlight,
Where am I now?

I moved out
of the city in my mind
to an empty cabin
in stark woods,
ran with wolves,
perked ears and quivering jowls,
brushing starlight down
their backs,
and my back
lays on mahogany.

I listen to the creak of history,
skin on skin on lumber,
staring up
at the mist
you float on the ceiling
of my mind,
and in this womb
memory of days that shake
distorted static
in the in-between
moments
when it’s so quiet
and still
and sterile,
where memories don’t exist,
and all I can feel is
the prickling
of pieces of some place
that isn’t here,
shut up behind all the things that roll echoes through the walls,
that peek around doorways,
that linger at the end of the hall
in another house
that is not mine.

Lay nightshade circles
around my body and
dance to the moon,
because I am not moving,
and when seven winter’s snow
caves in this roof, let it
fall on me,
because if I could claw my way out,
I wouldn’t.

I will eat the rubble
and make drywall dolls
to sacrifice in your name
until this season passes.

The things we lose
long for us, spectral,
but we are gone forever,
and I feel them all watching me.

I’m here to tell you that there is no single thing that defines you, and that everything about the way your brain and your heart functions makes you an incredible machine capable of anything. I’m here to tell you that I wrote it all out; that I let myself dissolve so that my true identity had space to surface, and that now, after having parsed it all, having stared down that darkness in the middle of me, I know that mental illness can never define me.

Ahead of Me

I got really stuck on
getting it all out.

I didn’t care if you knew
any of it,
but my body felt so bloated when I started this,

and now I am an easy slice,
parceled out jigsaw pieces,
smaller spewed out of the box,

and there isn’t anything craven
left about it,
so it all stops here

for you,
but I go on,

and no one needs to know about it.

**To experience Blue Rooms on stage, a unique spoken word play, at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall please visit this website. Thank you.

Chris Whitlatch

Chris Whitlatch

Christopher Whitlatch is CEO of the Mon Valley Alliance (MVA), an economic and community development nonprofit, helping to rebuild the Mid Mon Valley. In his role, he builds collaborative efforts to tackle tough challenges.

Christopher also currently hosts Into Pittsburgh, a nonprofit news magazine show on Pittsburgh Community Television about people and organizations that are working to improve the community. An avid storyteller, he conducts a walking tour through Pittsburgh’s former Red Light District on weekends during the warmer months and as part of Doors Open Pittsburgh, also serving as a board member for the organization.

More information on his tours as well as his immersive games can be found at UniversalWit.com. Christopher currently resides in Cranberry Twp. with his wife, four kids and a rescued cat and dog.

The Tale of the Tiger and the Circle represents Christopher’s first public disclosure of his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He hopes this helps others better understand the disease and break through some of the stigma associated with mental health. Christopher has also recognized the need for him to become an advocate and this is the first step in his new mission.

The Tale of the Tiger and the Circle

I am about to share a story with you that few people know. My wife knows. My kids know. They must, for they need to know how to deal with this daily. My father knows, in case something might happen. A few close friends know, as they spotted it and helped me to seek treatment two years ago.

Most people see me as a hard working CEO of nonprofit. Someone that is creative, often intensively. Maybe, sometimes, someone who is guarded or aloof or stand offish. I don’t think they know that I have bipolar disorder.

I say I have, rather than I am. This is a disease not a condition. And, my goal in telling my story, coming out in public about my struggles with it, is to help you understand it a little better.

They often describe bipolar as “riding the tiger”. This is not a linear path for me, but rather a circular one. To me, I am either chasing the tiger or the tiger is chasing me. It is not the tiger that scares me, but the endless circle that I can never get off. It would be so nice to walk side by side with the tiger or even stare at it face to face. But to never leave the circle is frustrating, frightening and downright painful.

All of us have periods of manic, normal, and depressive. In bipolar, your periods can be far more intense and can even shift back and forth quickly. Let’s start with manic.

I like when I am manic. People like me when I am manic. I am energetic, creative and fun. I didn’t want to lose this by going on medication and I fought treatment for many years. Picture the tilt-a-whirl. It is fun ride at a manageable speed.

I can see that tiger just ahead of me. So, I speed up. Faster. Faster. Faster. I start to not sleep. I eat less. I talk faster. Louder. Faster. Faster. Faster. It is around this time that my friends start to want to get off (the ride). I am a cat chasing the shiny red light in all directions. I can catch that tiger. I can write a novel, a screenplay. Hell, I can write ten of them by tomorrow night. Faster. Faster. Faster. Faster.

This is a dangerous place. They call it hypermania. This is the place for someone with bipolar when they feel invincible. I can do anything. I can fly, so I might jump out of a window. Here is the trick – you might see it. My wife definitely will, but I will have no idea because it will feel completely normal to me. Completely and I like it. Faster. Danger. Faster. Danger. Faster. Sometimes, we never make it back.

So far, I have made it back. One time with a three-day stay in the hospital. There are three ways I can get off the ride. The first is nice and easy – a drift back down. This might include a stay in mania or a stint in normal or a brief mild depression.

What is more likely, is a crash back down like an old space capsule and this is going to hurt. And let me be clear, there is physical pain with bipolar, especially during the transitions. If I hit the ocean and I float, that means a period of depression, typically a few weeks. I will know I am here, but I will begin a fast disconnect. No social events. I can’t people. I will start to fall behind on work. All those things I was cranking on while in my manic period – they will disappear. The tiger has made it around the circle and it is chasing me. I want to run faster, but I am not able.

If my capsule sinks, then the third way off the ride is nothing but darkness. I can’t see anyone or anything, not even my tiger. This is as dangerous as the opposite side of the scale. I don’t care about living. Well, let’s be honest, I don’t think I should live when I am in this place.

The way back up is often harder than the way back down. I emerge from darkness to chaos. You won’t see it, because I will do anything to not show it. But, I don’t want to get out of bed. I am missing commitments. Work is going undone. I get disappointed, frustrated, and I have a short temper. This hurts.

I push to go up. I fall back down. Depressive to manic and back and back and back. It can go this way for weeks at a time and it hurts, wow does it hurt. This period breeds anxiety that can go all the way to paranoia. I jump at shadows and then I push again, because if I just go faster then I will feel better.

Because of the increased pain when I am going up and down rapidly, this is the most dangerous time in my experience. I want to stop the pain. I want to stop the circle. I tell myself to do things at this stage to make it stop. I am more likely to stop taking something or start taking something or drink more or whatever makes me feel better.

And Bipolar is a killer. You won’t see it in the cause of death. You will see suicide or overdoes or accident. But, look a little harder and it will be there in the fine print – struggled for years with bipolar disorder.

I may get a period of normal. I may jump right to a period of mania or I may slip back into a period of depression. I never know. I just run around the circle in an epic battle with the tiger that never has a winner. And that frustrates me to no end.

Yes, you will only see me as happy, friendly, successful and creative or reserved, aloof or low energy. I am telling my story so that you also see me as someone that wants to make change. I want to find a way out of this circle for me and my family, but I also want to be part of the change for 5.1 million other people wrestling with their own tigers and circles.

So, I will go around again and hope that this time we can find answers together.

Rachel Kallem Whitman

Rachel Kallem Whitman

Dr. Rachel Kallem Whitman earned her doctorate in educational leadership with a focus on disability studies from Duquesne University. Her dissertation, “Perceptions of Disability, Identity, Agency, Goal Attainment, and Young Adult Disability Programs” explores the relationship between disability, identity, narrative, and agency. Rachel earned a B.A. in psychology from the University of Virginia and her M.S.Ed. from Duquesne University. Rachel has worked in public school systems, higher education, and hospital settings empowering youth and young adults with disabilities to become leaders of their own lives through the power of storytelling. Rachel is an adjunct professor at Duquesne University in the Psychology Department as well as an avid writer who has published numerous pieces that unpack our cultural understanding of disability vs. ability and the subsequent consequences of ableism, or disability oppression. Personally, as a woman living with a disability, Rachel uses the power of blogging to own her narrative, navigate her recovery, challenge stigma, and redefine success based on her own abilities, values, and goals. Through educational leadership, the practice of advocacy, and intentional storytelling, Rachel creates safe spaces where authentic disability narratives are amplified, hope is kindled, and community is cultivated. This work has empowered Rachel to look beyond illness and find herself.

The Night My Cat Told Me to Kill Myself

May 2014

**trigger warning: suicide**

My husband had gone back to California for business.

The last time he was away, things unraveled quickly. Looking back, I’ve been trying to pinpoint the specific moment in time when my brain decided that life wasn’t worth the hassle. I’m still not exactly sure when I broke.

It was November in Pittsburgh, which means it was cold and dark. If there had been any snow on the ground, it was grey and used at that point, and no one was excited about it. I had been alone for about a week, and my husband was due back soon. It seems odd when I look back now because I was so close to the finish line. I was so close to seeing him again and having everything make sense. But instead I fell apart.

I guess there wasn’t a singular “moment” at all. There were a series of weird moments. I started getting weird, which progressed into becoming even weirder. And then I was definitely at my weirdest.

My weirdest thoughts are the most dangerous. They are obscure and alarming, and they don’t make sense to me, but they are the only semblance of sense that I have left. I’m left with nothing but my disturbing, weird ideas and stifling anxiety I can’t explain. Often there is no one there to listen.

When I reach this point, rife with unease and short circuits, I operate like a defective robot. I am distant and numb, my movements are jerky, and I don’t think on my own. But nobody has programmed me to do anything at all so I just continue getting weirder.

I guess a more accurate word than “weird” would actually be “psychotic,” but that sounds so apocalyptically condemning and pathological. I feel like when people hear that someone is “psychotic” they think that this individual is a knife-wielding maniac with no conscious or soul or capacity for remorse. This person wants to hurt others for odd, scary reasons. This person is just violent and crazy. This person cannot be saved.

I always wonder what this person looks like.

It is hard to know what other people think, but that November the psychotic person looked like me. And while I know it wasn’t truly “me,” because my therapist always reassures me that it is just my illness taking over, it is still my mind and my body and my pain. Which makes it that much harder to run away.

I was not a knife-wielding maniac. I had a conscious and a soul. I was remorseful. I didn’t want to hurt others for odd, scary reasons. But I was crazy. And I felt violent towards myself because I could not be saved.

When you are at that place, when sanity has flaked away, and you are left bare and splintered, you only have the crazy thought that you cannot be saved. And you cling to it. Because honestly, it doesn’t sound all that crazy.

You are so lost and gone and you look in the mirror and you see blue bewildered eyes but they aren’t yours, even though they are anchored deep in your pale face. And you stare in the mirror for hours and you try to find out who you are, but your freckles don’t listen and they shift when you blink, so you have to start counting them all over again.

If you just knew how many freckles… Maybe it would be you…

And your lips do whatever they want and your hair doesn’t listen because you aren’t really there anymore. You have no control.

And you can’t be saved.

That is the one thing, the only thing, that you know.

And while you may have a few fleeting moments when you wonder if that is true, that you are really doomed, suddenly your freckles move again and you are beyond lost. Buried in a labyrinth of neurochemical glitches. The hope goes out.

That November I had a microphone in my tooth and everyone was listening to me. And they knew I could not control my freckles and they wanted to take my eyes because they were never minethey were just stuck in my head. And I didn’t want them to listen to me, and while I wasn’t sure who “they” were, I knew that we all agreed on something. Just one thing.

I could not be saved.

So, even though Princess Diana told me I shouldn’t, I put all my medication in a cup. Every pill in the cabinet. When I went to open the medicine cabinet I first had to look at its front surface…the mirror. And the mirror looked back at me, and my lips, which did whatever they wanted, smiled and told me it was ok to let go. And my hair was wild and frightening and it just wouldn’t listen and Princess Diana had perfect hair so who was she to tell me what to do when she clearly had no idea what I was going through?

And my freckles kept disappearing. Little lights flickering out before my stolen eyes.

I put all my pills in a cup, pills that were supposed to keep me from feeling crazy, pills that were supposed to help me think and help me sleep and make me feel like I might be saved one day if I just worked hard at it and did what my doctor said. But it was too late because they didn’t work, and I didn’t work… I broke.

I am not sure who exactly, but someone who I had spoken too… maybe it was my therapist, or my husband, or Princess Diana, had called a friend to come check on me.

And my friend thought I could be saved.

She didn’t say it, but I saw it in her nervous smile and she looked me in the eye and she didn’t say a word about my chaotic freckles. Then my parents came the next morning. Then my husband came home. And we put the pieces back together.

But then my husband went back to California for business.

I was alone again. It was May. I could do it this time.

There was no pitiful snow, only uncut wild grass. I really earnestly believed that I could do it. I had a plan now and saw my therapist twice that week, and I cuddled my dogs and I tamed my hair.

It was going to be fine.

But I was lonely. And food tasted weird. I figured I would just eat light because my stomach always acts up when I’m nervous. So I ate crackers and tried some soup. I drank bubble tea because it was sweet and simple. And that is all I needed in my life, for things to be sweet and simple.

It was Wednesday night and my husband was due back late on Friday. And I cried myself to sleep because the bed was deep and empty. Thursday was full of rain and I couldn’t swallow the lump stuck in my throat. It stuck there and felt uncomfortable and even the bubble tea wouldn’t dissolve it. The dogs were loud and had unbridled energy, and I was just hopeless and tired.

It is hard to remember everything. I know that Thursday was terrible and I canceled plans with friends because I didn’t understand why they would want to see me. I had left the dogs at doggy daycare because it hurt to see their exuberance when all I could do was cry and collapse.

Friday I sat with my cats. I sat with my cats and they listened and purred. And I wept and I ached and I didn’t understand why I had to be alone. But my husband was coming home that night and I knew I could do it this time. His plane was due at 10pm, and I wanted him to call. I knew if I heard his voice I would feel better and the blackness would start to pull back from my brain.

But he didn’t call. I worried and wondered and the minutes ticked by. Now it was 10:30pm.

And I knew he was dead.

I was frantic and confused. I felt a stab in my chest and the lump in my throat grew five sizes bigger so I could barely breathe. What would I do without him?

But my freckles didn’t jump so maybe this time I would be ok and maybe I could be saved after all…

I sat with my cat and she looked at me with gentle, brown eyes. I asked her why she wouldn’t answer my prayers and where was Princess Diana this time? And while I knew the microphone was no longer in my tooth, it didn’t matter because they were not my eyes and I knew it. My cat was right.

So I put on my sandals and went outside. My husband called, his plane had been delayed, but I knew it wasn’t really him. He told me he would be home soon and that he loved me. But cats are smart and they have nine lives so they have a lot of experience with living. My cat was right, because why should I live in a world where my husband could die at any moment? It is such a shame we just have one life so we can’t even practice living.

That night I realized that within the span of one tiny life you could easily lose the person who means the most to you. You could watch them slip into the gnawing nothingness that claims all of us, save for Earth’s collection of cats. Your world comes crashing down into heaps of smoldering rubble, thick tar pits of broken black and glass. Was life even worth it? Maybe my husband was on the phone right now but he was going to die at some point.

It felt like a dream.

It wasn’t a nightmare because I felt calm as I walked to the bridge.

It all made sense.

I didn’t have to hurt, and this is how I could be saved. I was psychotic but I was worth saving, and I could save myself if I just jumped and flew and let the world go. And I knew I was close to the finish line, because he was driving towards me in his blue Subaru and he was saying nice things and how he would come and get me. How we would figure things out, because we were always in a state of figuring things out.

But I was tired of finish lines and I couldn’t run anymore. I wanted to break apart.

I was a block away, but I didn’t make it to the bridge.

Luckily, he caught me just in time and he told me I was never broken. He whispered to me that life is easier when we have each other to love. Even with a brain prone to glitches.

I didn’t believe him, but I did start to feel safe again.

That was the worst it’s ever been. After leaving an overly demanding job, trading a subpar psychiatrist for a superior one, and involving more friends and family in our life, my husband, my bipolar disorder, and I are managing much better. I work as hard as I can to steel myself from the addictive delusion that I own a brain fraught with faulty wiring. A brain that will inevitably break into bits and to obey it means to end everything. Things are so much better only because we refuse to give up.

Dedicated to the love of my life

Brett Staggs

Brett Staggs

I am a songwriter living in Wilkinsburg with my wife Amy and daughter Dorothy Rose. My lyrics have often dealt with my depression and anxiety, though perhaps cloaked in wordplay, so although I’ve been in the practice of sharing my experience via music it hasn’t always been so clear. @ConCamo has a clarity to it that I wanted to share my story through, where the wordplay could be directly linked to issues of mental health.

Hangover Blues
By Brett Staggs

I don’t wanna be like this forever

I hope I will get better

Because the light stings my eyes and steals my smokes
And I don’t want to feel this no more
Cuz the morning rescues me like some foreign nurse
On the battlefield of a distant war

I don’t wanna look like this forever

I hope I will get better

Because what was so sweet is now so sour
And the light in my eyes dim by the hour
Until I become as dull as a blade found beneath a stone
In the ancient woods of constant rain

I don’t wanna go on like this forever

I hope I will get better

Because my eyes feel like they’re full of fire and sound
And my bones threaten to pack up and leave town
And my heart feels like it’s floating down the Rio Grande
In a boat made of matchsticks and aluminum

I won’t live like this forever

Cuz I don’t think it gets much better

And the days do go by
Oh and by the way
Today is my 100th birthday

Story Credits

Photographer & Web Producer: Will Halim and Alyse Horn-Pyatt
Profile headshots on the title spread were courtesy of individual storytellers

Disclaimer: the narrative expressed in the article is solely those of the author(s).
However, 
if you find this story offensive or inaccurate in any way, please contact us for (re)moderation. Please make sure your phone# is accurate to receive our call.

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