The Plank in the Ocean

Note: One of my New Year’s goals was to post one poem and one fictional short story on here. It’s August and I haven’t done either, so here’s my attempt at the former. I don’t read poetry and I’ve never tried to write it, so I have no expectation that this will be good. Hell, it’s probably not technically even poetry. Tips and criticisms are gladly accepted.

Note, Part 2: This deals with mental health issues. The thoughts I express here are real but I have never actually considered harming myself. I promise.

Mornings are always good. There is life, my beautiful children running to give me hugs and playing together.

Routines — making breakfast for the kids, reading the newspaper, going to the gym — make me feel calm and productive. After that, I never know how the day is going to go. The kids might be crazy, or they might be great. Work might be great, or it might really suck. More to the point, I never know how I’ll react to any of those scenarios. The kids might be crazy, and I might be the calm, empathetic father I want to be. Or I might lose my temper. Work might suck and I might not let it bother me in the least. Or the tiniest annoying thing might stick in my head and not get out.

Nighttimes are almost always good, like 97.5% of the time. I can unwind, relax, go to bed.

That 2.5% though…it feels like floating on a plank in the middle of the ocean without land or boat in sight.

The water is the made of Nevers.

Never be good enough.

Never be the father I want to be.

Never be the father I had.

Never be the husband I want to be.

Never get to sleep.

Never escape this ocean.

The salt is the mistakes I’ve made.

Yelled at the kids.

Lied.

Drank too much.

Misplayed a hand and cost my family money.

Can’t even provide for them.

Chose myself over my family.

Missed out on time I’ll never get back.

The salt stings.

Cycling from one to the next, it never ends. I rub the salt out of my eyes only to have more instantaneously appear. I poke my head out of the water.

Breathe.

Deep breaths.

Count to ten.

I’m back underwater. Never, never, never, because X, because Y, because Z.

Your mistakes don’t define you.

You try the best you can.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Thing is, this isn’t manufactured salt. All the mistakes are real and regrettable. They aren’t one-time occurrences either. I’m 40 years old, and every year it seems to get worse, not better. How does this all end? I’m back underwater. Never, never, never, because X, because Y, because Z.

I should take an anxiety pill, but it’ll make me sleep for 12 hours. It’s already 2 a.m. The whole next day will be wasted. All because X, because Y, because Z. Never, never, never.

The plank is the morning.

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

But how? Can’t breathe, much less sleep. Head is light, stomach turning. Seasick, I guess. No land, no boats in sight. Just nevers and becauses, water and salt.

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

That’s all well and good, but it only takes one time of not making it to the morning. Dad was 56 before he didn’t make it to the morning…can I even make it that long?

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

A couple more cycles and then, finally, nothing. Sleep. A 50/50 chance the sleep gets me to the morning. A 50/50 chance I suddenly wake up two hours later unable to breathe, and the cycle starts over.

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

HOLD ON TO THE PLANK.

Mornings are always good. There is life, my beautiful children running to give me hugs and playing together.

Routines — making breakfast for the kids, reading the newspaper, going to the gym — make me feel calm and productive. After that, I never know how the day is going to go.

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