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Kamikaze: of or pertaining to a suicidal attack by a Japanese airplane pilot in World War II.
— Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition
Seuqcaj woke up one morning in the year 2000 and felt the white walls in his apartment closing in on him.
At first, he thought he was in a hospital ward, as he had been many times before. The first time he had been hospitalized was for attempting suicide when he was 16 years old. He had faked his way out of the hospital. He’d outsmarted the staff by pretending to be mentally stable and socially well-adjusted, which he knew he wasn’t. But he had been about to start his senior year that fall, and was determined to graduate in front of family and friends rather than being home-schooled in some group home.
He had tried to end his life. Actually, what he had really wanted to do was go to sleep for a while and take a break from all the hurt; at least, that’s what he’d told himself at the time. He had taken an entire box of sleeping aids. He remembered feeling anxious afterwards, waiting for a wave of death to swoop him into the great beyond. But he had just become groggy and delusional. He recalled the white walls spinning around, as if in a dream. Then he’d seen a blurry image in white approaching. It was his mother in her nursing uniform. The next thing he knew, he’d woken up in the hospital. His mother was sitting beside his bed, crying. That’s when he’d been placed in a group home for troubled kids.
A lot had happened to bring him to that horrible place, the group home in Salem, Massachusetts. He had been terribly abused at home; neglected by his mother and verbally and physically abused by his stepfather, who had also threatened his life. His stepmonster—a nickname he created himself—used to pace next to his bedside with a long iron bar every night, to the point where he hardly got any sleep. He had only been 13 years old. One night, fed up with the nightly routine of terror tactics, he had gotten up and gone after his stepfather with a knife. He had dared him to come at him and get it over with, yelling, “One of us is not coming out of this alive and it’s not gonna be ME!” The monster stepfather had backed off then, and said that he was “only kidding,” with a sinister smile on his zombie-like black face. He left Seuqcaj alone after that night, but the physical abuse towards Seuqcaj’s mother and his psychological abuse towards them both would last another 10 years, before he and his mother packed up and abandoned the apartment before the monster returned home from work.
Years later, Seuqcaj had his own apartment and was in medical school. Seuqcaj had experienced some sporadic periods of depression and hyperactivity over the years, which had caused him to drop in and out of college during his undergraduate years. He had never been formally diagnosed with any major mental illness per se, but he knew something was wrong; but because of his Haitian background, he slept night after restless night on the pillows of denial. One day, he woke up and felt the white walls closing in on him yet again. He felt an urgent need to find a way out; fear and anxiety were doing a sort of grotesque dance in his psyche, and he knew that no matter where he went, there would be no escaping his emotions. Just then, he remembered wearing a T-shirt in high school with the words “Kamikaze” emblazoned on it. During World War II, members of a special corps of Japanese air force pilots—kamikaze pilots—were charged with the suicide mission of crashing an aircraft on a target laden with explosives. How ironic that he had purchased that very shirt just months before his first suicide attempt. He wanted to take pills again, just escape for a while and “sleep it off,” he thought to himself. But this time, he knew the danger of being alone and not being found in time. So he decided to check himself into the hospital.
By going to the hospital, he knew he was going against everything he’d been taught in Haiti about what a man should be. He was always extolled by his aunt for being “a good little boy” who never broke the rules, and when he did, took his beating without even making a sound. A “good little boy” who never complained and kept his feelings to himself. But as he sat in the lobby of the hospital, years of repressed emotion welled up in him like a volcano that was well overdue to erupt. He had been told that he had mentally ill family members, but they were ostracized and never mentioned in conversations. Some of them eventually succumbed to suicide. He knew for a fact that he was the first in his family to admit to himself that he was indeed sick and also to get help. That day, he became an iconoclast against his family’s taboo against mental illness.
After spending three months in the hospital, he was released to a shelter, since he had lost his home and was unable to continue medical school. He knew his life was forever changed. He knew that the habit of living for the future had a way of making the present elusive, so he decided to live in the moment and began to rebuild his life one day at a time. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (a.k.a. manic/depressive illness). As part of his treatment, he was encouraged to become an active member of his community. He became a peer educator and gave lectures to students preparing to enter the mental health field. He went around telling his story to help de-stigmatize mental illness, particularly in the Haitian community. He often shared a poem during his personal appearances.
Decorative calm tantrums scrolling psychopathic scenes; locked up in cerebral birthing grounds, learning to think thoughts of sanity. Adorned in hospital gowns and bedroom slippers, I stand: a “psychotic” example of sanity. Emotions ranging from blue to red, acrimonious examples, while massive muscles wearing moonlight colors safeguard society from my pathology.
Walls wearing white silk form a decorative calm; a ploy to procrastinate pandemonium on the ward. Milieu “counselors” tend to the task of sorting through the aberration; blacks and whites develop contact, copying scripted color stereotypes; my world is a roller coaster of stormy highs. Like overtures and summer sunset fires and acid lows. Like a crashing elevator from the horrific heights of the Hancock tower!!! Nurses in white worried uniforms bellowing “medication time!” Working doubles neglecting their homes and hobbies “medication time!” becomes their mantra.
Then, upon being released, having been deemed “safe” for society, I wander the streets decorated in death and debris, lurking around affluent trash cans looking for my lost life. Now doctors dictate that I suffer from a disease of ambiguity. Now, I find myself roving the streets in society’s straightjacket.
Jacques Fleury’s book: “Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue, A Poetic Memoir” about life in Haiti & America was featured in the Boston Globe & available at www.lulu.com. His CD “A Lighter Shade of Blue” with the folk group “Sweet Wednesday” to benefit Haiti charity St. Boniface is available on iTunes. Contact Jacques at: firstname.lastname@example.org and visit him at: www.facebook.com/thehaitianfirefly.