2021 Barrett Winner
5th Place Basia Thomas
Introduction by Maggie Rutkowski, Barrett Committee:
My name is Maggie Rutkowski, and I am a Spanish instructor here at HFC. I am thrilled to have the honor of introducing our fifth-place winner today, Basia Thomas, author of a series of vignettes titled Darkly Marked. To say that Darkly Marked represents its author would be an understatement. In fact, I think it is accurate to say that this piece is a piece of its author, a part of her soul that she has shared with the world. It is unbelievably powerful, and after reading it, I was not sure if I had been figuratively punched in the stomach or in the face, or both. Reading Basia’s first published work is an experience that the reader lives: she calls upon, and calls out to, our five senses. We travel with Basia from childhood to adulthood as she “battle[s] off an ungodly beast”: depression and suicide ideation. We join her as her “world gr[ows] darker”, lie with her as she is “knifed with strife”. Basia told me that she is “a real person who likes to share real stories”. As a writer, she wants to speak to the audience and “from the heart, from the gut”. Basia, you certainly succeeded: you take us beyond the all-too-often overly simplistic treatment of depression and suicide ideation, beneath the surface where empty platitudes of it just takes time or try therapy or what about medication? cannot penetrate. In your quest to use your writing to help both young people and adults facing similar challenges, you have provided us with an uncommon depth of vision into a life “Darkly Marked”. The power of Darkly Marked begins with its title and grows through the introduction, six vignettes, and conclusion. With those two words, she conveys what she describes as “feel[ing] engulfed…it comes back…[and] becomes harder each time”. Basia’s life is a personal testament to the perseverance and determination that this fight requires, and she has seen and heard how her grandmother (whom she has never met) and mother have fought against this same “plague”. I am confident that this future nurse, who currently works with COVID-19 patients as a Nurse’s Assistant, will serve as an inspiration to others looking for relief and support. Basia believes that “we all have a purpose in life”, and Basia – I am sure I am not alone here in thinking that in writing, you just might have found yours. Without further ado, I present to you Basia Thomas herself, to read the introduction, first and fifth vignettes, and conclusion of Darkly Marked.
Unsettling shade of darkness mirrors my life. It tells many tales about the disconnections of the known and unknowns revealing the hidden buried deep inside. Its unearthed presence shattered the sparkle of an eye. The exhaustion of me being torn to shreds as if in a lion’s den. Yet, bloodshed proceeds in the arena of battling off an ungodly beast. I was a fallen figure born from the transcendent skies and cursed. Fate tarnished me like the rotting off flesh. A peculiar stench reeked of uninvited desires and from this, an eye into the truth of pain was gifted to me as I casted pain onto others.
I. At seven-years old, my dad spoke in rage that shook every wall in the house. He scolded, “I wish the fuck I never had you. You have done nothing but given me a hard fucking way to go!” I couldn’t enunciate words to form a sentence. But pause silently in my bedroom as he slammed the door to leave for work. My world grew darker as the house stood still from being rattled with anguish. I glanced at my first grade picture and questioned, “Why the hell am I here?” His words grinded me into a low spirited pulp of disdain to a level I drifted off. I pulled out a navy blue bandana that was wedged inside of my congested drawer. I wrung it tight to form a rope-like structure and wrapped it around my neck. Afterwards, I began constricting the material continuously as rage became alive in me. Heat started radiating throughout my body as I felt each heartbeat thump louder. The pulsating pressure stifled my auditory senses causing ringing sounds. I grossly peered into the mirror, I observed my reddened face turn a bluish purple hue as blood vessels engorged. Every part of me was starting to fill up with pressure and numbness. Chills crept up my spine instantaneously to where I relinquished the bandana. I desperately gasped for air as I cried in secrecy.
II. An early autumn of junior high, teens were tormenting the unpopular in the third period of class. I was mocked and persecuted for my imperfections. I couldn’t fathom the injustice of being verbally crucified to the cross. It reverted me back to the verbal abuse I endured behind closed doors from home, a forbidden door that withheld many gory secrets. Secrets that had germinated and sprouted wildly at night. Vines of rage deflowering my virgin flesh as I spiked a mirror onto the wooden floor shattering it. I kneeled to gather up the tiny shards of glass that resembled my brokenness. I began slicing my left wrist until it exuded blood. The agony and metallic scent initiated a euphoric high. An addiction that caused me to carve “H-A-T-E” into my left forearm as an insignia of despair.
III. During freshman year, my dad cast stones about my weight relentlessly. I was forced to believe that “thin” was defined as attractively beautiful. At that particular time, I didn't sport a slender hourglass-figure like most popular girls I marveled. I felt damned for being curvaceously modeled differently. It possessed me into a compulsive state of mind. I became accustomed to partially starving myself. A polite, “No, I’m not hungry,” turned into a daily ritual. I fell in love with the idea of not eating for short periods of time. As months passed, my silent obsession started to become noticeable. I started to transfigure into a beautiful coming-to-age woman. I adored my chiseled jawline and collarbone. I thought, "If I could be a bit thinner, maybe dad would consider me beautiful." I began to raise the bar towards a stricken diet. Food became an opponent to where I started to purge. It turned into a series of episodes of regurgitating guilt that captured the vulnerability of binge eating. A vicious phase that plucked the life out of my soul as the indulgence heightened. It also became the norm of me anatomically critiquing my nudity in mirrors. Weighing in roughly one-hundred pounds, I whispered, “If I died tomorrow, I can fully rest in peace knowingly acknowledging that I am beautiful!”
IV. On a rainy evening, I listened to the melodies of "Living All Alone," by Phyllis Hyman. The lyrics of her song reminded me of my ongoing loneliness. For months, I lived in solitude from the world after graduating high school. It was a mental block towards keeping the unknown as a secret. I didn’t want family nor friends to discover my ghoulish tendencies. I'd spent countless nights writing suicidal letters and housing them underneath my mattress. Although, I hadn't successfully proceeded to terminate my life yet I constantly dreamt about my funeral arrangements. A home-going of being laid to rest in all white, garnished with cherry pink roses and baby breaths draping my mahogany casket. Short and sweet burial of the remembrance of whom I once was before sunset.
V. As the night matured, clocks slowed as the ambience of the house groaned. I stared at the cracks in the ceiling as I faded into a trance. A dream that became detrimentally enticing and realistic. It urged me to write bittersweet letters of goodbyes as if tomorrow is today. Setting aside my best attire for my wake. I tip-toed roaming through the crackly house onto the frigid floors of the silenced basement. My heart paced as I searched for a desirable floor beam from up above. I whispered, “Perfect! Here is one.” I stapled a farewell letter onto the lip of my left sleeve. I then placed a wooden stool down and stood on it with pride. A noose knotted from velvety materials of a belt awaited to be occupied. I tied it onto the beam and placed it over my head. I took in a final whiff of the house and stepped forward kicking the stool away. My body burst into spasms and swayed until life became of absence. I snapped back into reality and said, “Lord have mercy! No!” A forced image of my mom being in a devastated state of grief startled me. I placed a hand over my mouth and rocked back and forth in silent disturbance.
VI. On a wintry night, I was knifed down with strife of the past. Years of horrid memories that couldn’t be eradicated. My bedroom walls bled of harboring attempts of self-murder it witnessed. Silent cries of sorrow swallowed dry through the cracks. Vileness budded into a blossom of habitual diabolic acts. My self-loathing never left nor detached itself from its host but regenerated strong immunity to victimize its prey. Its gloomy aura engulfed me into a state of the unimaginable. A desire of ingesting twenty oxycodone pills and never waking up. The exhaustion of battling this dark secret crumpled me immensely. I loudly thought, “God damn, I am so tired of this shit! When the fuck does this shit end? I'm beyond emotionally and mentally tired of fighting this shit. No matter what I do to avoid it. This bullshit keeps returning back every single time!” I started flipping my bedroom upside down as I dropped onto my knees hyperventilating. My hands shook as they held fistfuls of hair. I rocked back and forth until I cooled down to collect my state of thought. Afterwards, I set on the chilled wooden floor and went into a daze.
For many years, it never dawned on me that I was in a passive-aggressive state. I became mentally locked inside myself. I lost contact towards what was real. It was of "normal" behavior in my clouded perception. But what I didn't realize was the traumatic events I exposed others to. It sickened me to imagine my mother forced to bury another daughter. If not dead, the guilt of financial burdens of being brain dead on life support. As of today, I still continue to suffer with depression and suicide ideation. It hasn’t gone. No matter the support system, preventatives, and prescription meds. It hasn't persuaded me to recover mentally. But acknowledging the flawed truth of being mentally ill.