Baby Birds by Susana Cardenas-Soto
Cosmologically, I am here because 13.8 billion years ago, the universe rapidly expanded from a high-density state, causing the formation of time, space, matter, energy, and then subatomic particles, and then atoms, and then stars, galaxies, planets. Eventually, a planet existed in a state that supported a single life form. In 1997, my parents conceived a child, and in 1997, that child was born as Susana Cardenas-Soto. My grandma deemed me the miracle baby- torn from my mother, translucent and light as a bird, skin slimy and shaking.
When my best friend in middle school was diagnosed with anorexia and admitted to Rush hospital, I brought her copies of our favorite childhood books. She was a frail baby bird—covered in soft fuzz, bones peering out from her blue tinted skin. She told me the nurses didn’t allow her to wear sneakers, or shave her legs or armpits. All the knives were plastic. All the other patients in her hall were also baby birds, young ravens and cardinals, shoulder blades sharp as wings. I struggled with what to say to her. I had a deep instinct within me to care for her, to somehow save her from the illness that was killing my best friend.
I saw myself in my friend, the beautiful boned birds, and wanted to help them because I refused to help myself. Incidentally, I was developing my own eating disorder, and a deep depression had set in years before. As this reality is shaped by symmetry, in my freshman year of high school, I ended up in the psychiatric ward of Rush hospital. In a blue gown, staring into the eyes of a cop sitting directly in front of the window. Slimy from tears, featherweight and diagnosed with clinical depression. My parents sat next to me, a sweaty hospital meal of meatloaf and bread, orange juice and assorted vegetables wrapped in plastic and foil in my mom’s lap. She asked if I wanted any. I shook my head; turned to see what would be the first and only time I’ve seen my dad cry. His paunch face crunched and distorted by tears, phrases like “I didn’t know” and “I’m sorry” and “Why” pummeling past his lips like punches. I suddenly felt guilt. I felt selfish, like I had no right to feel the feelings I did, had no right to try to kill myself, had no right to make my parents fall apart in front of me. They lost one child already, and now sitting on a hospital bed was their other, crumbling onto a hospital bed. I felt all of this and nothing. There are a lot of things I could’ve done in that moment to justify what I had been hiding from them. I could’ve said any number of things to try to comfort them. I didn’t do that. I held my parents hands and sat in my reality.
Physically, I am here because I have attempted suicide seven times. I am here because my body resisted, because my central nervous system did not depress enough, because I received enough oxygen to stay conscious, I am here because my body wanted me to stay. All of the matter, atoms, stardust, cells, blood, bones, brain. As time will have it, I got up from that hospital bed. I got treatment, a therapist. Recovery is slow and deliberate and frustratingly complicated, and there are so many days that my body just can’t take the stress. I believe that trying and failing is succeeding in trying. But even that is hard to believe when your mental state doesn’t facilitate that kind of thinking. Practicing reckless optimism is an everyday task. I live, as we all do, with the consequence of the creation of the Universe: pain is involved. I know it sounds horribly pessimistic, devoid of hope and any sort of sunshine. Here’s another consequence of the creation of the Universe: our reality is our reality. We don’t get another one. Humans get this Earth, this manifestation of existence, this chance to realize just another consequence: things get better. I am happy in my reality. I am here because I’m supposed to be. For the first time in my life, the Earth underneath me is solid. Even now, as the chemicals in my brain fight against my wishes to be stable, I am unwavering in my desire to be.
Susana Cardenas-Soto is an 18 year old Mexicubanaspañola girl currently living in Oak Park, Illinois.
Illustration by Van Hong.