White Tie Occasion, 1988

Jul 9, 2021 | 2014 Spring - Mental Health, Poetry

By Marcia Deihl

“White Tie Occasion, 1988” needs a note of introduction. As Robyn [or “the editor”] pointed out, it is “intense,” especially for anyone who knows me. Obviously I’m still here, and things turned out OK, but the years 1987-88 were the greatest “FGO” (fucking growth opportunity) of my life. I was 38, had a lover who fully supported my bisexuality, and enjoyed the caring support of the BiVocals, the founding group of BBWN. So I can’t blame biphobia for bringing on this situation. After moving in with my boyfriend, I became sleep-deprived, exhausted, and “stuck in the moment,” as if I’d lost my identity. I could not read, plan, or create. I thought it was chronic fatigue at first, but I was eventually diagnosed with clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Perhaps years of feeling different in terms of my bisexuality contributed unconsciously to this breakdown, but so did everything I had ever denied and kept locked inside – early family trauma and a bipolar dad. At the time, PTSD was just beginning to be applied to non-war-related emotional trauma.

In the spirit of Kate Bornstein’s book, Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws (1986), and the “It Gets Better” campaign, I wanted to assure people, especially younger ones, that the feelings captured here are shared by lots of folks and are nothing to be ashamed about. I didn’t actually try to kill myself, but I thought about it constantly. Today I want to “come out,” so to speak, as someone who has suffered mental illness and has survived (and some days, thrived), with the help of many forms of help – long-term talk therapy, medication, meditation, recovery groups, and loving friends and family. There should be no difference between physical and mental illness in terms of stigma or blame. I wrote this poem to show what it felt like. And as any good therapist will tell you, once you can turn your particular hell into a story, you begin to heal. So if you feel like life is not worth living, tell someone, write it, shape it, and may you begin to heal as well.


White Tie Occasion, 1988

Like the boy in the fabled Dutch town,
My new husband stuck his finger in the dyke (me)
To stop the flood.
But the tears still came,
A Niagara roar of sobbing
Into my pillow every day after work
While he sat across the hall,
Listening to the demons of his clients.
They got better; I didn’t.

And unlike that little Dutch boy,
He could not hold back my sea of years,
Tsunamis of rage piled wave on wave.
When the water burst, it flushed his flailing self
On top of the wave and out the door,
While I, the sea itself, was the wave
That dipped down under the deep,
Down, down, to that cold and lightless place
Even before the womb (which at least was warm),
Down to that NO-land of no time, no memory, no energy,
No feeling,
No voice inside, giving orders, picking out earrings,
Telling me what colors I liked best.
My smile took a terrible Mona Lisa curve
That echoed the smiley face on my green foam hospital slippers.
What were they thinking,
Giving us those fucking things????

For forty days and forty nights
seconds crawled like hours.
When I wanted out, I put on eye liner
And they said, predictably,
“Look, she’s taking pride in her appearance.”
And I walked out with my overnight bag,
My diary, and my meds.

But when I got out, this false body stayed on,
A cardboard cutout for old friends to greet:
“Hi, how are you? What’s new?”
They hadn’t heard my husk of skin
Now played host to a changeling parasite.

I replay that scene in my mind,

Knowing I will never repeat it:
Calmly, I knot the white leather
tea dance tie,
wrap it around my high ceiling pipe
—I’ve done my research; no half measures for me—
And the truth arrives like spring:
A blank nothing is better than a bad something.

Marcia Deihl is a writer, singer and out and proud co- founder of BBWN.

Featured image: Marcia and Robyn in 2011

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