It was worse than I let on, worse than I told anyone. It was worse than I even suspected it could ever become, the thoughts of suicide creeping up from behind me. I could see it from my periphery, the fog of sadness surrounding my line of vision until everything I used to be was enveloped in gray. Days passed in minutes, weeks in hours. He only died in February, how could it be four and a half months already? I laid in bed and couldn’t move, couldn’t cry. I laughed callously at my own pathetic nature, remembering when I longed to stave off tears for the duration of a whole day. You see, I’d assume that when the tears dissipated, they’d be replaced by a newfound sense of wholeness. Instead, they were replaced by a constant darkness, even on the bright days with my best friends beside me.

The depression was a rock slide that began the day of my dad’s wedding and didn’t let up until I was a heap of emaciated bones, laying on the carpet of my freshly cleaned room (Wasn’t a clean room supposed to make me feel less cluttered as well…?), thinking of ways I could gracefully kill myself without scarring my friends, my family, the people I work for. You see, I’d planned it all out: I had to be a nanny for at least another year and a half but after my obligation to the kids was done, I’d be free to die if I so chose, if my desire for death was stronger than my now non-existent lust for life. But a year and a half? With the next week seeming barely manageable, how could I be expected to make it a year and a half? To me, time was unfathomable. (Wasn’t I just fighting with my dad about what nylons to wear to his wedding? Wasn’t I just getting ready for his funeral? Wasn’t I just telling my ex-boyfriend how I never wanted to see him again? Wasn’t I just being comforted by my estranged former best friend, as I sobbed about how badly I wanted to fix things, fix everything?)

I slept restlessly until four p.m. every day, getting high to dull the bright lights and jagged colors of sobriety. At first, the drugs made life tolerable. Soon, however, they became necessary for me to function. Once so social, so vibrant, I was now reduced to a silent statue of the girl I used to be, and the only times I left my house were the times that I knew if I stayed home, alone, I’d do something drastic and regrettable. Even though I longed for death, the ember inside of me still remembered the heat of its extinguished flame and oh, how it wanted that back.

Internally, my narrative was split in two and I tried to logic with myself, to interject my false truths into the most comforting of sentences: I know you want your old life back, Amber. I know that’s all you want. But… You can’t have it. Ever. And you don’t want this life. So where does that leave us? What do we have now?

I didn’t love anyone. I couldn’t stand the idea of being touched. All my old anxieties and disorders came back to me like old friends – And the fact that I had so few friends these days made my bulimia, o.c.d., social anxiety, and fear of physical intimacy all the more appealing to keep close.

So when I left the house that day, I expected a day just like any other – I’d be there but not present, always staring at people with the blank, emotionless eyes of a girl behind the frosted glass of sadness that kept her from connecting with anyone. Instead, however, I found life waiting for me outside. I woke up from my hibernation and all my friends were here and they all loved me and they were all so happy to have me back. And that’s when I let it go – The pain, the sadness, the constant desire to die. I let it go. And ever since, it’s been gone. Suddenly, the world is Technicolor again. I can talk with freedom. And the sense of clarity I have about my sense of self is enormous. For the first time in twenty-seven years, I know who I am. And it ends up, I’m kind of a lovely person.

The Michigan winter held an unshakable¬† grip over me. Tense, like brittle bones held across a fleshy throat with an alarming amount of strength, sending me into fits of seasonal depression too jarring to shake off. It’d been that way my whole life – The chalk of the salted snow leaving it’s imprint on my shoes, clothes, and disposition. I keep my turmoil hidden away most of the year and I do a good job but come December? It’s noticeable. And it lasts until spring, sometimes spreading it’s ill in the vapor between seasons, poisoning the air with it’s spoils. The derelict buildings of Detroit and the superficial pretense of it’s suburbs only show their imperfections in the snow flurries at dusk and my routine of walking around aimlessly until the thoughts of my head expelled themselves in a tangible way was interrupted – I wasn’t happy here. Not anymore. Not that I ever was.

I packed up and I moved, from the suburbs to Ann Arbor, and suddenly, there was a shift. So unlike the initial shift I felt when I first moved back to Michigan, which was the shift of malcontent to a begrudging love to the state who’s grip I cannot shake no matter how hard I try, how far I run. This shift, instead, was sudden: All it took was for me to place a booted foot onto the white dusted pavement that lead away from my house, my house, mine, and suddenly, like a princess in a stone tower, first feeling a kiss from a man she’s never laid eyes on but loves anyhow, I was alive.

The shift was visible in the Christmas light twinkle of the small city skyline. Tangible in the embrace of friends I no longer had to drive to visit, only to return home to my self-imposed quarantine of boredom, drugs, and thoughts more morbid than I let myself confess to friends or lovers. It was audible in the sigh I breathed, contented, my cheeks flush red with the frozen air reminding me that all my friends, they said there’s warmer days ahead.

One month backwards in time, a girl stood in front of warehouse apartments on Woodward. She shivered and shook and kicked at the snow as the flurries blurred her vision, stung her eyes until she cried messy mascara streaks down her cheeks and she would’ve thought “Oh god, I’m meeting new people, I shouldn’t look like I’ve been crying” but she just couldn’t manage to care. Instead, she blinked and sneered, her round, European face contorting into what she hoped was malcontent, but what was really just a Cabbage Patch kid frown. She hated her surroundings even though she loved her city but she hated the sight of it, tonight, it was like a funeral. A boy answered the door and she went inside but it didn’t make a difference. Despite the spike in temperature, she was still cold.

Tonight, she was frozen. A thirty minute walk from her doorstep, past the arboretum, past the campus and the 7-11 and the bookstore, to Liberty Street had left her legs shaking and, she later found out, frostnipped to a bright red hue. But she didn’t care. When she saw the streets of her city alive in gusts of white and blurs of black, she saw her life and it was beautiful.

For the first time,¬† I didn’t see a snowfall marred with memories and unpleasantness and the overwhelming desire to barricade myself inside. Instead, I understood the mentality of a screenwriter who would have his leading man first meet the girl that would save him on a blizzard-tinged street corner.

It all made sense.

2011 has included (in no particular order):

The most amazing night of my life, drinking at my favorite bar until I blacked out and then drinking some more, almost confessing my undying love to exactly the wrong guy, feeling professionally satisfied for the first time in years, urinating in public, illegal activities in back alleys, packing up all of my earthly possessions, changing locations, unpacking all of my earthly possessions at said new location, sleeping in a foyer on a bed made of couch cushions, no less than eight near-nervous breakdowns, being overcome by fear, being overcome by joy, a gnarly encounter with a bathroom phantom, uprooting my entire existence, and finally, after 26 years, making my dad proud of me.

This has been no small feat, considering that 2011 has only consisted of four days thus far.

My name is Amber Valentine. I used to just be a girl who wrote about music. And then I started to grow up.

Gotta Start Somewhere by amberaudravalentine