Thursday, June 28, 2007

To Write Love on Her Arms


TO WRITE LOVE ON HER ARMS by Jamie Tworkowski

Pedro the Lion is loud in the speakers, and the city waits just outside our open windows. She sits and sings, legs crossed in the passenger seat, her pretty voice hiding in the volume. Music is a safe place and Pedro is her favorite. It hits me that she won't see this skyline for several weeks, and we will be without her. I lean forward, knowing this will be written, and I ask what she'd say if her story had an audience. She smiles. "Tell them to look up. Tell them to remember the stars."

I would rather write her a song, because songs don't wait to resolve, and because songs mean so much to her. Stories wait for endings, but songs are brave things bold enough to sing when all they know is darkness. These words, like most words, will be written next to midnight, between hurricane and harbor, as both claim to save her.

Renee is 19. When I meet her, cocaine is fresh in her system. She hasn't slept in 36 hours and she won't for another 24. It is a familiar blur of coke, pot, pills and alcohol. She has agreed to meet us, to listen and to let us pray. We ask Renee to come with us, to leave this broken night. She says she'll go to rehab tomorrow, but she isn't ready now. It is too great a change. We pray and say goodbye and it is hard to leave without her.

She has known such great pain; haunted dreams as a child, the near-constant presence of evil ever since. She has felt the touch of awful naked men, battled depression and addiction, and attempted suicide. Her arms remember razor blades, fifty scars that speak of self-inflicted wounds. Six hours after I meet her, she is feeling trapped, two groups of "friends" offering opposite ideas. Everyone is asleep. The sun is rising. She drinks long from a bottle of liquor, takes a razor blade from the table and locks herself in the bathroom. She cuts herself, using the blade to write "FUCK UP" large across her left forearm.

The nurse at the treatment center finds the wound several hours later. The center has no detox, names her too great a risk, and does not accept her. For the next five days, she is ours to love. We become her hospital and the possibility of healing fills our living room with life. It is unspoken and there are only a few of us, but we will be her church, the body of Christ coming alive to meet her needs, to write love on her arms.

She is full of contrast, more alive and closer to death than anyone I've known, like a Johnny Cash song or some theatre star. She owns attitude and humor beyond her 19 years, and when she tells me her story, she is humble and quiet and kind, shaped by the pain of a hundred lifetimes. I sit privileged but breaking as she shares. Her life has been so dark yet there is some soft hope in her words, and on consecutive evenings, I watch the prettiest girls in the room tell her that she's beautiful. I think it's God reminding her.

I've never walked this road, but I decide that if we're going to run a five-day rehab, it is going to be the coolest in the country. It is going to be rock and roll. We start with the basics; lots of fun, too much Starbucks and way too many cigarettes.

Thursday night she is in the balcony for Band Marino, Orlando's finest. They are indie-folk-fabulous, a movement disguised as a circus. She loves them and she smiles when I point out the A&R man from Atlantic Europe, in town from London just to catch this show.

She is in good seats when the Magic beat the Sonics the next night, screaming like a lifelong fan with every Dwight Howard dunk. On the way home, we stop for more coffee and books, Blue Like Jazz and (Anne Lamott's) Travelling Mercies.

On Saturday, the Taste of Chaos tour is in town and I'm not even sure we can get in, but doors do open and minutes after parking, we are on stage for Thrice, one of her favorite bands. She stands ten feet from the drummer, smiling constantly. It is a bright moment there in the music, as light and rain collide above the stage. It feels like healing. It is certainly hope.

Sunday night is church and many gather after the service to pray for Renee, this her last night before entering rehab. Some are strangers but all are friends tonight. The prayers move from broken to bold, all encouraging. We're talking to God but I think as much, we're talking to her, telling her she's loved, saying she does not go alone. One among us knows her best. Ryan sits in the corner strumming an acoustic guitar, singing songs she's inspired.

After church our house fills with friends, there for a few more moments before goodbye. Everyone has some gift for her, some note or hug or piece of encouragement. She pulls me aside and tells me she would like to give me something. I smile surprised, wondering what it could be. We walk through the crowded living room, to the garage and her stuff.

She hands me her last razor blade, tells me it is the one she used to cut her arm and her last lines of cocaine five nights before. She's had it with her ever since, shares that tonight will be the hardest night and she shouldn't have it. I hold it carefully, thank her and know instantly that this moment, this gift, will stay with me. It hits me to wonder if this great feeling is what Christ knows when we surrender our broken hearts, when we trade death for life.

As we arrive at the treatment center, she finishes: "The stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope. We have hope."

I have watched life come back to her, and it has been a privilege. When our time with her began, someone suggested shifts but that is the language of business. Love is something better. I have been challenged and changed, reminded that love is that simple answer to so many of our hardest questions. Don Miller says we're called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding. I agree so greatly.

We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that matter. He is not invisible when we come alive. I might be simple but more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, is revealed in our love. I have seen that this week and honestly, it has been simple: Take a broken girl, treat her like a famous princess, give her the best seats in the house. Buy her coffee and cigarettes for the coming down, books and bathroom things for the days ahead. Tell her something true when all she's known are lies. Tell her God loves her. Tell her about forgiveness, the possibility of freedom, tell her she was made to dance in white dresses. All these things are true.

We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don't get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won't solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we're called home.

I have learned so much in one week with one brave girl. She is alive now, in the patience and safety of rehab, covered in marks of madness but choosing to believe that God makes things new, that He meant hope and healing in the stars. She would ask you to remember.



ABOUT THE TITLE / BEFORE THE STORY


My friend Justin works on music videos in LA. A couple months ago, I had the chance to go with him to watch Joaquin Phoenix direct a video for the band She Wants Revenge. I had been hearing a lot about them, and their single was starting to get a lot of play, but more I was excited to see Joaquin Phoenix. This wasn't long after the release of Walk the Line, and Joaquin's brilliant performance as Johnny Cash. That movie moved me so much, watching love's patient victory over pain.

Seeing him work that day, I saw some of the madness that I remembered from his Johnny Cash role. Joaquin seems a guy who lives out there on that edge. In a single take, you would see him move from defeat to celebration, wearing both on his sleeve. And I liked that he was about the song, his leg always bouncing with the drum beat. I liked his passion.

But here's the thing that stayed with me: Joaquin writes things on his arms. By that I mean, he doesn't have a notebook (or an assistant with a notebook). Ideas, things to do, it's all there, in Sharpie scribble on his arms. It didn't make sense and I liked that. Here's one of the biggest guys in Hollywood, running around with crap written all over him, on a day when MTV was there to film. This isn't normal stuff. If you're going to write things on your arms, people are going to see. They're going to see what's on your mind and they're going to think you're weird. I liked the possibility that he didn't care what people thought. I thought it would be cool to live like that, to be about things and to be bold about them.

I came home and there was some hard stuff happening with my family. On a couple different days, I wrote "love" on my arm. It was for me, a reminder I guess, and I decided I was okay with people seeing it. Love is a pretty good thing for people to see.

A couple weeks later I met another fan of Walk the Line. She said she needed the movie, to see Johnny Cash beat his addiction meant it was possible for her. She watched it coming down, cocaine in her tears as she wept quietly in a dark Orlando theatre.

I think you know, but that was Renee...



FACTS


It is estimated that 15% or roughly 17 million Americans suffer from depression.

It affects rich and poor, young and old, black and white.

2/3 are never treated.

They do not recognize the illness, and see it as a weakness or personality flaw.

Untreated depression is the most common cause of suicide.

In Australia, New Zealand and Japan, there are more suicides than murders.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people.

Depression is treatable.

Cutting was very much a mystery until 1996 when Princess Diana admitted that she had struggled with it.

Self Injurers use physical pain as an attempt to calm or numb the psychological pain or stress. They injure the outside in an attempt to release the pain on the inside.

Self Injury is an attempt to stop the hurting, an attempt to be clean.

Self injurers and addicts seek the familiar, even if its pain. This is completely foreign to most people.

Self injurers believe pain is their only option, using greater external pain as a relief from the pain inside.

There is hope.


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1 comment:

brooke said...

courtney hamm and i got shirts this week

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