Definition of purgatory
: an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification; specifically: a place or state of punishment wherein according to Roman Catholic doctrine the souls of those who die in God’s grace may make satisfaction for past sins and so become fit for heaven
: a place or state of temporary suffering or misery
I know suffering. I know misery. I know a thousand other terms to describe the concept of internal anguish. The word that’s tripping me up here is temporary. The word is too obscure. It could mean an hour, or three weeks, or six months, a year, ten years, fifty years… I’m not good at waiting, but I can manage it if I know the time frame. Give me a deadline and I can accomplish anything. Right now the suspension itself is rotting away inside me with a cancerous nonchalance and cares not that everything I touch turns to shit. There is just this place, this state of misery, where I must reside, temporarily, until I have paid for whatever transgression I committed in the past and have atoned for my sins. I have stopped wondering about the crime. It is enough for me to know that I have angered God or pissed off the Universe to such an extent that I am being made to pay. I get that. I know how Karma works. I accept it. But again, how long do I have to keep paying?
As a psych nurse, I used to think myself quite safe from any cataclysmic karmic retributions. After all, I was doing so much good in the world by helping people and working overtime and giving every tiny piece of myself to my patients and the job and to the progression and understanding of modern mental health philosophy, working tirelessly to dispel the myths and stigmas of psychiatric disorders and…I don’t even have the energy to finish this thought. Suffice it to say, I thought it might all balance out and any crap I intentionally or unintentionally put out into the world might be, maybe, hopefully, absolved by comparison? Certainly I had held enough bodies down during seizures, held enough hair back during vomiting, held enough arms and legs still for injections, heard enough prayers and pleas in the deepest hours of the darkest nights from the depths of the most lurid nightmares, swam through oceans of piss and feces and mucus and blood, choked on the stench of rotting addictions and dysfunctional family dynamics, taken enough abuse from asinine doctors with God complexes, been spit at and punched and knocked out and kicked and stabbed with a pen…it had to count for something. No?
I have hurt people. I have lied. I have been unfaithful. I have been dishonest. I have been deceptive. I have sliced people to shreds with words in a public forum and held them up to ridicule for my own amusement. Believe me when I say that I rightly own my faults and that I am paying for these violations, but if you think for one minute that there is any justice in this karmic extraction, you are sadly deluded. Karma doesn’t play fair. They say karma is a bitch, but it is so much more than that. Karma is the skull and crossbones covered with the black velvet cape, staring out deeply from within with the glowing red eyes, the scythe flung casually over her shoulder, the cackled laugh echoing in your brain as you are on your knees, one arm up, pleading, begging for mercy, feeling the churning of your guts and bowel mix with the disease of your soul as it prepares to projectile its way out of you from both ends at once, all while you scream and pray for death. Or in the case of purgatory, all while you endlessly wait for death.
This year, 2016, was the worst year of my life. I suffered a catastrophic breakdown and underwent shock treatments. I suffered paralysis in both feet and cannot walk without braces. I cannot physically or legally drive. I’m hanging onto my job by a medical-leave thread. I single-handedly destroyed a decade-long relationship. I lost my financial independence. I lost three vehicles. Because of the physical problems, I had to give up rowing and biking and racquetball. The rowing alone…the people, the team, the lake, that peaceful water, all of it gone and missing from me now as if someone had cut a piece of me away and buried it somewhere out of reach. It won’t be ignored. I’ve tried to replace it. I’ve tried to get over it. The problem is, a part of my heart still beats there. “You are a strong rower, Tracy, but to be a part of the crew, you have to be able to launch the shell…” And I couldn’t. At the end, I couldn’t even get in and out of the boat by myself.
There is no trace of who I was last year visible in who I am now, but I am not alone in this. It seems 2016 has taken its toll on everyone. I would like to blame it on the election because that would be the easiest way to explain it all. That would justify the stress and discord and bad mojo and the constant undercurrent of negativity and anxiety hovering like a virulent cloud over everything and everyone. But I’m afraid it’s bigger than that, at least, for me it is. I’m afraid that I am atoning for sins I’ve committed in another life, or carrying the burden of purgatory for someone else’s sins, maybe thousands of others’ sins, and that I am to carry this cross or roll this bolder up this hill from now until death because life as I knew it before is just over for me now. I’m done. I’ve had everything life is going to give me and now karma or the universe or the spirit world or whatever is demanding that I pay up. Or maybe 2016 was just a really, really fucked up year for everyone and no one escaped its wrath, its hopelessness and destruction, its pestilence and disorder and conflict and injustice and cruelty.
I have tried not to pin many hopes on 2017, but I am human, and without hope, I would not make it to January. I hope that if it doesn’t get any better that it will not, please God, get any worse. I have come to accept that I am my own hostage, but I am trying to develop empathy for my captor. For now, I carry the burden of this purgatory without trying to be a fucking martyr and just take my lumps as they come. I dare not ask, “What else can be taken?” I know there is plenty more. I watch and wait. As soon as I can unburden myself, I’m going to pick up the bat and start swinging with a great and wild abandon.