“If the moon smiled, she would resemble you.
You leave the same impression
Of something beautiful, but annihilating.”
“but when I t came right down to it, the skin of my wrist looked so white and defenseless that I couldn’t do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn’t in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get.” bell jar
So I have three copies of The Bell Jar. Well I only need two–because one of them I still can’t bring myself to look at. But I refuse to let it go. It means too much. When I do look at it I feel that old familiar feeling of dread, the bad kind, the kind that is a glimpse of what you know inevitably is coming. I was in high school when it became really strong. Don’t get me wrong, I knew something was mentally off with me around sixth grade, and had cried and worried so much about it in private by then that I had become accustomed to that level of panic.
…until I got a copy of Plath’s The Bell Jar. An old yellow one with browning pages. The bold, curly letters in the title. Her gnarled name–the woman who didn’t make it. And she was me. She was so much like me. Or IS. I couldn’t read as I read it in class after class. I was nauseous but unafraid. When you know something is going to happen to you that cannot be helped, you somehow brace yourself for more pain, and the fear becomes a numb root in your gut. And these roots had taken their initial digs years ago, and yet I felt too mildly mad at this time of The Bell Jar reading, that I dared myself to continue and explore what felt like a schizoid terror.
I read and read and read, ill and beyond uncomfortable. My head fell asleep like a limb, and I couldn’t shake it out. My friends looked different, they talked different. I was suffocating. And I learned only later why Sylvia named it The Bell Jar. Because that’s what I was in–and it was what I remained in for over a decade after until I broke it. I decimated the mother fucker. But it took years away from me… Years away from my life. I was dead. I died. And then it’s as if I had to just be let be for a few years, which came at a very high cost, but I did come back. Well, no, you never come back. Someone else does. But it’s someone better. Someone who knows that that rot is gone, it is over–I know that better than I know myself. Okay, okay I’m sidetracking….
Toward the end of week two (back in high school now) I still hadn’t dared to explore my mind or question my “off-ness.” I was terrified of it. And looking back, it’s almost like I could see my future splayed out before me. A rot. Some of the parts in the book I still can hardly read completely spell out what I experienced long after reading and trying to forget about The Bell Jar. For example, when I was in and out of the mental ward and experiencing psychotic break-throughs every day, my “tell” for myself that it was going to get bad was I would look at the shadows on the walls and floors cast from lampshades. If I was afraid of the shadow, (yes a simple shadow from an actual lamp on an end table) then I knew I had to find something to hold on to because my mind was going to leave me soon.
Prophetic. Somehow. Because this book, as I go through it now, there is a part I either didn’t noticed or tuned out–her love of the shadow. Which is perhaps where I differ in one way with Plath–I did not long for the edge (did she? IDK), I couldn’t look at the thin skin of my wrist because if I did cut it, it wouldn’t be me doing it, it would be my mind, and my mind terrified the living shit out of me in my late twenties when “the fever” started (the fever festered up from writing so much about my past in college to a point where i couldn’t write anymore and i dropped out, too sick to continue; too afraid of what I was writing). Perhaps that is our difference–she was braver than me. But I take that back, she gave up. And I wonder if it’s all in how your personality and soul handle disorder. Did she quit because she was so brave to face the blackness and continue into it? And it was just far too dark for a human? Or did she almost…obsess with and play with that fire, therefore feeding it? I don’t know…
What I’m trying to get to is the quote I found in my old goddamned haunting yellowed copy of The Bell Jar:
“I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.”
My god, I am still effected by this. My hands are sweating, just as they always do when I ever even consider Plath, a woman/poet I have put off reading my entire life because she is in my head, I was in hers. Am. I am, I am, I am. What I didn’t say is that after that second week in high school of testing my own fire to see how far I could handle this madness-curiosity, I one day left class without permission and threw it into the large waste basket in the hallway. I purposely threw it. Hard. And I wanted to cry. But even then, it had grown too much in me. It’s like madness gets its grips in you, so yeah I guess you don’t have to feed it for it to grow, but I knew, (of course I found another old copy of the book and kept it in my cedar chest ever since, untouched, but as a reminder) even after I threw it away and chickened out on testing my…psyche and courage (because messing with those things automatically connects you to messing with the disorder in your brain) I knew it wasn’t over. I knew something was dreadfully wrong with me, and that it was going to get worse before it would even come a fraction of a millimeter close to creeping out from the shadow. I feel like a large part of me spent the years from ages twelve to twenty-eight waiting for the demon to come out of me and we’d duke it out. And it happened. As I knew it would. Plath was just as haunted, if not more, because hers drove her to the end. It came out in voices in my head, and a screaming girl, and psychosis and mania and what felt like acid trips. I have to say I am amazed I am where I am. It should’ve killed me, at that magnitude.
2 thoughts on “My Yellowed Reminder, The Bell Jar”
The way you weave words, with eloquence and courage is so inspiring to me. I’ve nominated your blog for the The Very Inspiring Blog Award. http://www.theopenjar.com. Hope the sun is shining wherever you are today! 🙂
Shelah thank you so much!!