“Unplugged” by Rayon Lennon

Rayon Lennon


for Arlana Miller and Naomi Judd and others who have died from mental illness

My car dies, in a largely
empty parking lot surrounded
by fragrant family restaurants
and 3-story homes. I gather
it’s the battery. I don’t have the energy
for new trouble. It’s a 2-week-
old used car with 30,000
miles on it. So it has
no reason to die. I open
the hood and it’s dizzying
how many parts it takes
to keep the Altima alive.
It’s as complicated as the human
brain. There is still enough
juice in the battery to power
the radio but not enough to turn
over the engine. I sit in the car
like a casket as Naomi Judd’s Spotify
voice fades. “Love can build
a bridge between my heart
and yours … don’t you think
it’s time?” I still can’t believe
her voice is gone. Killed by
depression. She had no
energy to fight death.
My Galaxy cell is dying
also. It has 3 percent
life left. I go to pee
in the hell of a pizza
joint’s bathroom. Filth
browns the seat. Grime
lives on the sink. Back out
in the chill, I check
my phone to find
the roadside assistance
guy had called. I call
back and he says I missed
his call and so he had to help
someone else. I explain
I visited a bathroom.
He says he would
come after he is done
and he says I should keep
my phone on. I tell him
my phone is dying too. He says
keep it alive. I stand
in the darkening cold.
I feel empty as the water
bottle in my numb hand. I read
the public Instagram suicide note
of Arlana Miller, a pretty young college
cheerleader. She said goodbye to her
mom and family and how
Covid, her ACL injury
and failing grades deepened
her emptiness. She said she felt
dead inside, the water is peaceful
and she lost her connection
to God. She said she was not
enough. I imagine
the unbearable peace
and sadness of her final
minute. I am alone with
the clouds and thundering
traffic. The car still won’t
wake up. Dark crashes
down. I was supposed
to meet up with
a friend for drinks
and chase women. I stand
under the hidden stars
and see my life. I’m desperate
to find a wife to feel at home
in the universe. Yet I have given
back good women in search
of what I will never find. The director
of my family therapy
agency sends an email encouraging
us to take care of our mental
health as we take care
of the clients we empower.
He says in the email how therapists
and clients are ending their lives
at an alarming rate. I think
of my own war with depression, OCD,
and anxiety. I think of how many
days I have had to pull
myself up to help
a client who is struggling
to hold on. I am more than
tired. Mental illness killed
Naomi Judd at 76 and Arlana
at 19. There are a billion
ways to die, including chemical
imbalance. My drinking
friend calls to give me
advice but never volunteers
to come by and give me a jumpstart.
He says he will head to the strip
club to down wings and watch
a basketball game. I almost hate him
for driving past this worn-out seaside
town without rescuing
me. I know he is searching
for love and fatherhood.
I am searching too. We feel lost
without offspring. I wait for the roadside
assistance guy like God,
someone I don’t exactly know,
but who will release me
back to my routines.
I call the roadside
assistance guy before my phone
dies and he sends me
straight to voice-mail. Twice.
He blocked me and reported
to Nissan that the job was completed.
I find charging in the grime-filled
pizza place and call my insurance.
They send another guy out.
He’s forty minutes
away. I sit and watch people walk
in even though they are unaware
of the never-cleaned bathroom
and years of scum glued to the sink
and floor. A Black boy
and his Mexican girlfriend
sit behind me. The boy has new
love and suburbia in his voice.
He orders a ton
of wings and when it comes
he says he is rewarding
himself for slaving
at a job he hates. He says
he will be off tomorrow
and he didn’t even know
it. I go outside to be
with my car. I can’t find
the stars. I am alone.
The new roadside assistance
guy pulls up with a woman
in his crumbling SUV and quickly
jump-starts the car. He’s black.
He says I look like
someone he knows. I say
I don’t. The woman looks
out at me like she could
enhance my life. I get in my car
and my father calls. He gives
me late advice about the battery
and alternator and how to park
the car once I get home
so the tow truck can easily grab it.
He wasn’t part of my world
for the first 13 years
and when I left Jamaica to live
with him in America he was not naturally
nice to me. I think of the car finance
guy who 2 weeks ago looked
at my credit report and said
he would give me advice
like I was his own son.
I didn’t cry. I think how some
people are set up to win. The finance
guy told me how his son
had an 800 credit score
and just bought a home.
I drive by homes on water
so big and beautiful that they
outshine the quarter moon.
The moon rocks like an empty
rocking chair. I drive in warmth.
Downtown New Haven
is not full because it is
Wednesday and the Yale kids
strain over exams. Two black-dressed
Spanish ladies keep falling
as they walk from a bar. I want
to stop but I think my car
breaking down was God sending
me another message to turn my world
around. Last winter, I nearly died
in a hit-and-run accident that killed
my car. I am the same man.
In more debt and depression.
So many people are dying
right now. And I get to climb
the Victorian stairs to a place
called home. There is nowhere
to go but bed after washing
off a sad day. I used to be
afraid of falling asleep and never
waking up. Now I accept
there is another
world. The TV purrs.
All the lights can’t go
out. I let silence take me
beyond this night. Unable
to find sleep I listen to Naomi.
I listen to “Love can build
a bridge” between poor
and good times. I hear
the rumble of a distant
train cutting through a scenic
valley of ponds and greening
trees. Sweet memories
return to me. First kiss.
First goal in a high
school soccer match. First
poetry award. First ace
in a golf tournament. First
time a woman said she loved
me more than herself. I get
up and savor the dark richness
of gingered sorrel. The way it carries
me back to Christmas nights, family,
lights and songs. I hear delicate notes
falling from a flute. I know life is likely
in love with me too.

from Poets Respond
May 17, 2022


Rayon Lennon: “The decorated country music super star Naomi Judd, 76, recently took her life after decades of battle with mental illness. We learned this week how she died. She died a few days before being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Arlana Miller, 19, a first-year student at Southern University and A&M College, recently committed suicide after posting a detailed suicide note to Instagram about her struggles with what appeared to be depression. Two beautiful souls with so much to live for were killed by mental illness. As a therapist who also struggles with low-level depression, I wanted to highlight the hell of depression. When my car didn’t start recently, I found the perfect metaphor to highlight the features of depression. People with depression tend to have low or no energy/motivation to do basic tasks, like getting out of bed. Arlana’s note is perhaps the most detailed and tragic suicide note I have ever read. It’s all there—emptiness/worthlessness/excessive guilt, distorted thinking, suicidal ideation, hopelessness, etc. It’s sad. It’s a reality for millions of people each day.” (web)

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