Sobbing through an episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead, I watched as the man I used to know and love as Drew Carey’s cross-dressing brother deliver a monologue about PTSD. I know, you’re already wondering if I or someone I know suffers from PTSD. Let me clarify that I have never been in a war or a war zone. I have never lost someone to a senseless act of violence. (Is there such a thing as a sensible act of violence? I guess killing zombies could qualify as sensible.) I have seen carnage and lived as a mermaid at the bottom of my own ocean of grief. At the age of 5, I witnessed bleach white bones break and Technicolor blood spurt out like silk red ribbons from fingers the size of child size chopsticks. For several years I believed my life was a game of Ring Around the Rosy as people fell around me to suicide. Ashes. Ashes. We all fall down. Though I do not have PTSD, I have drifted around the edges of its pulsating darkness…
Morgan, one of my favorite characters from The Walking Dead, succumbs to a soft and creeping madness after the loss of his family. (It’s the Zombie Apocalypse. Who hasn’t lost someone? Why does he get to go mad?) He begrudgingly listens as Eastman, a man he tried to kill after his madness went from creeping to a dead run, eloquently talks about PTSD. “It’s all happening right in front of your eyes over and over. Your body’s here, but your mind is still there. There’s a door and you want to go through it to get away from it, so you do and it leads you right back to that moment. And you see that door again and you know it won’t work, but, hell, maybe it’ll work. So you step through that door and you’re right back in that horrible moment every time. You still feel it every time. So you just want to stop opening that door. So you just sit in it. But I assure you, one of those doors leads out, my friend.” – (Here’s Not Here – S06E04)
After a long-term relationship ended in infidelity, I frantically ran from door to door. As much as I have grieved in my lifetime, this was the first time I had ever been paralyzed by emotional shock. It was the first time I relived an event over and over and over for months. It was the first time I had to tell myself, “Yes, this really fucking happened!” every day when I woke up. I lost count of the doors I opened.
I barreled through a door that took me to India. There I discovered some of the most exquisite portals known to mortals. Some were decorated with peacock sculptures replete with gold gilding on their fine feathers. Others were painted Vishnu Blue, shining beacons of the Brahmin priest class. I stepped through a fantasy door in my own mind where door handles were bronzed tentacles reaching for my hand. I encountered otherworldly door knockers who spoke to me like characters from Labyrinth questioning whether I really wanted to go through the door at all. I ran to writing classes with a world famous author where we talked about a praying mantis who was my Tiny Prophet from another galaxy. Some doors opened without my touch, pulling me across thresholds by an unseen force. I never recoiled from door handles too hot to the touch. I shielded my face and stumbled inside hoping that the fire on the other side was less consuming than the blaze in which I currently resided. Every day, I walked through a less glamorous door where I worked every holiday and every over-time hour I could scavenge to hide from the pain. Doors I had waited my entire life to open led to brick walls or sheer drop-offs.
Every door led to an absurdist bazaar of rare goods and life lessons to be learned. Always dazzled upon entry, I quickly realized I had entered the same moment I had been trying to escape. Betrayed by the person I loved most in the entire solar system, I became a door whore. I was sure each one would liberate me from the suffocating reality in which I had found myself. “More Janus! More!” I raged at the Roman God of Beginnings and Endings. Also a God of Portals, Entries, and Doorways, I begged, “Never let me run out of doors!” A day with a thousand doors was sometimes never enough.
In full disclosure, my heart has always ached for the Romeos and the Juliets of this world and worlds beyond. When David Tenant’s Doctor Who was separated by a universe from Rose, I pined. As much as my heart hurt, it knew it could never have been any other way. Sacrifice is the pinnacle of love. When Seth gave up his divinity to be with a human for one day in City of Angels, I only wanted to eat pears in honor of his loss. Other times I longed for a reality like that in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where pain can be erased away like a misdrawn memory. Could it ever truly be exacted? Scrub all you want, but there will always be a residue that shows up under a UV light. My weakness is the plight of the star-crossed lovers, destined to be pulled apart by external forces. I find beauty in the most haunted corners of the mind. I dream of that love… Am I a tad melodramatic? Absolutely. Though my nascency is sadness and that is where I find comfort (Sad is happy for deep people – Sally Sparrow), the destruction of my love had been an inside job. When the fire was raging outside, I had prepared by wetting the roof, filling buckets of water, and then slipped and fell only to drown in my own bathtub. Though I had lived the love of an ordinary life fallible by human weaknesses and misdeeds, the hurt was not ordinary.
Fortunately, I have not found a door leading to the Zombie Apocalypse. I do voraciously watch it on TV though. I’m sure Robert Kirkman never imagined his zombie saga would be likened to a bad breakup. I’m sure Scott M. Gimple never imagined his dialogue would say, “I see you” to a weepy girl frantically running from door to door to find a world where her heart still remembers to beat. Or maybe he did. Maybe he knew it would go beyond sufferers of wars and near death experiences. Internal realities can be shelled and destroyed by emotional ammunition. The crops may be burned and the earth salted in hearts as well.
I understand I may be a solo voice in equating my heartbreak with the Zombie Apocalypse. As a visual artist and storyteller, I never know what part of someone’s life my art or words will touch. I am amazed by the meaning people tease out of my colorful and seemingly vapid little characters. I know that my cartoony Day of the Dead skeletons and dreamy big eye girls mean something to me, but I imagine them being fanciful to others. My brightly colored subjects appear fanciful and juvenile, but they serve a deeper purpose. The day I received a profound message about my “No Heart” character from the Wizard of Oz, I realized I had underestimated their power to connect. My tiny Tin Girl brought comfort to an abused woman from the place it was being stored in the closet. After leaving her abuser, the woman displayed it proudly in the living room for inspiration. She had found her door. She walked out and left the relationship. I continue to receive mournful thank you notes about my Day of the Dead Skellies standing watch at the funerals of their Beloveds. They provided a door for their grief.
Most people look to inspirational quotes to heal a broken heart. Counseling. Church. Addiction. Revenge. I look to the Zombie Apocalypse. Thank you, Robert Kirkman. Thank you, Scott M. Gimple. Additionally thank you to Chris Hardwick for letting us spend even more time with the Dead.
I’m still looking for my door. In the meantime, I will paint a thousand doors to show others the way out.
I assure you, one of those doors leads out, my friend.