"It might be over soon." (Lydia Havens on Saudade)
Lydia Havens is a contributor to Half Mystic's second issue, saudade. They are a poet, performer, landlocked sea witch, and pair of glittery eyebrows from Tucson, Arizona. Their work has appeared in Words Dance, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Persephone's Daughters, and The Rising Phoenix Review, among other places. They are the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam Youth Champion, and the runner up of the 2014/2015 Tucson Youth Poetry Slam All City Championships. Lydia currently works for Spoken Futures, Inc. and Wicked Banshee Press. Find out more here.
We asked three of our Issue II contributors to share with us their personal definitions of "saudade": how it is formed, where it has been, what it could be. Here is Lyda Havens' vision of the drifting photograph – the ache so tender-willing – the shards of bitter-soft yearning just before the fall...
part i: would he know my name? (& a playlist)
When I was eight years old, my parents invested in a CD player that came with a remote and speakers. I remember thinking it was the fanciest, most luxurious thing we owned (at this time in my upbringing, I didn’t even knew what an iPod was, and we didn’t own a computer). Every night, my dad would pick a CD from our collection to play while he and my mom played cribbage. It was typically something they could reminisce over—The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Bobby Darin’s greatest hits, one of the many Simon & Garfunkel albums that has “I Am a Rock” on it.
Looking back, it sometimes feels like music is what held my parents’ marriage together for at least three years. During the final months of their relationship, my parents would put on a CD they knew both my sister and I liked while they quietly talked about the state of our family. Sometimes I could hear my mother crying in between tracks, or my father speaking through his gritted teeth.
Between buying the CD player and my parents separating, my uncle committed suicide right after I had started fifth grade. I try not to think about that autumn, my mother ending every day on her bedroom floor, sobbing and in between worlds, my father utterly speechless, and everyone else on my maternal side of the family distant and unsure of what exactly I could understand. We traveled to California for his funeral, and during the reception, I remember a friend who was close to both my mother and her brother when they were all in grad school (and is still a close family friend) handing my mom an iPod Nano.
You know how much David loved music, the friend said. This has thousands of his favorite songs on it.
My mother, six-year-old sister and I all took turns using this iPod. My mom would listen to it while she exercised and got ready in the morning; I put it on a docking station and left it on as background noise for the two hours I was typically alone after school; my sister used headphones to listen to the softer songs before bed. One song that seemed to play every single afternoon was a live, acoustic version of “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton. I used a computer at my school’s library to find out that that song was written after Clapton’s four-year-old son fell out of a 53rd-story apartment and died.
So, like any grieving adolescent trying to channel the artistic process of “the greats”, I wrote two notebooks’ worth of songs and poems about my uncle’s sudden death and the growing intensity of my home life. I kept another book that was more like a diary, or a log for what I wanted out of life on any given day. I made a routine out of it - I’d go to school, come home, do my homework, then get out my notebooks and write while Alanis Morissette and Elton John sang to me about irony and clouds in their eyes. Every log of what I wanted ended with what I thought was a very reasonable demand: joy. Or at least, a sign that things would be all right soon. A rainbow, a bluebird, like something Israel Kamakawiwo’ole would sing a song about.
I know now this period of time in my life my very first instance of saudade. I just didn’t have the word for it at the time.
part ii: you must know life to see decay (& a playlist)
Just before my thirteenth birthday, I spent a week in the psychiatric wing of Phoenix Children’s Hospital after confessing to my mother that I was suicidal and hearing voices. The only thing I remember from the day of my admission is opening my eyes in a full bathtub, apparently attempting to drown myself. I also remember attempting to run away from my mother after getting into the hospital waiting room, her urgent hand grabbing hold of my arm before I made it out the sliding doors.
I have always known what “real” fear feels like; sometimes I think I was born to be afraid. I was and still am afraid of escalators, men who yell, burning to death. But I think I started to understand “real” fear in the psych ward. I didn’t know when I’d get to go home. I didn’t know when I’d start to feel better, less betrayed by the science that goes on inside of my body. That week gave birth to a new fear: uncertainty. It’s something I’m still working on, five years later.
The events leading up to being admitted and renamed “danger to self” were full of fear. I moved about an hour away from my home city of Tucson to the small town my mother had been working as a lawyer in for years. At first, I had been excited to move—I had been outed at my old middle school, and the bullying that came with that was incredibly vicious. However, that restarted within the first week at my new school. I kept my sexuality a secret, but looking back, it was just super easy to bully me. I was the new girl, incredibly quiet with serious acne and a weirdly-shaped body that was being affected by puberty in every way imaginable.
Right after winter break, a boy I didn’t know very well followed me home from school, grabbed me behind and tried to physically assault me. I ended up getting away, covered in bruises and scratches, my blouse torn and missing some of its buttons. I never set foot in that school again, and my mother tried unsuccessfully to enroll me in another school in town. In between schooling situations, I was homeschooled for a couple months.
Not having anywhere to go everyday and the asphyxiating smallness of my new town made me feel isolated—the only life on a planet the rest of the universe didn’t know or care about. That, on top of my many problems with depression and anxiety that were only just beginning to bubble at the surface of my stability, is what set me over the edge that was created the day I found out my uncle was dead.
In all honesty, there isn’t a lot I remember about being in PCH. I remember another patient in the ward telling me he didn’t understand why I was even there (“you just seem so normal, and quiet, and… okay”). I remember throwing up at some point after being given apple sauce with my nightly meds (five and a half years later, I have still never been able to touch another cup of it). I remember the voices going away, but being told my anxiety was at a level that was “completely unhealthy” and “sky high”.
What I remember the most vividly, though, is a weekend evening where we were given “quiet time”. During this hour and a half, we could do whatever wanted (within reason, of course) - we could color, read, put together a puzzle, play cards…
They also had a few handheld CD players on hand. I didn’t even have to think about it. I grabbed one before anyone else could.
PCH’s selection of CD’s was pretty limited. Mostly Justin Bieber-esque pop - stuff I wouldn’t allow myself to listen to as a pretentious almost-thirteen-year-old. I did, however, find something that was still wrapped in its plastic Target wrapping: Sigh No More, an album by a band called Mumford & Sons.
Today, I know that Mumford & Sons is a bit of a joke throughout the Internet. I join in sometimes - I personally think their last album was totally unoriginal, almost a sellout. Six months ago I went on a ten-minute long rant about it in a fancy restaurant to a guy I didn’t know all that well at the time (although now he is one of my best friends, so it must’ve worked in my favor).
But that night, in my washed out, subtly terrifying room in the psych ward, the cheap CD player in my shaking hands, Mumford & Sons became my lifeline. It wasn’t even that anything about Sigh No More was inspiring, giving me the will to live despite it all. It was something about the banjo being a reliable part of every track. Something about the closing song, “After the Storm”, and the lyrics within it such as Not this mind / and not this heart / I won’t rot and Get over your hill and see / what you find there / with grace in your heart / and flowers in your hair. Something about the word “heart” being used every few minutes (or every few seconds, as shown above).
Sometimes I laugh about it. A band that is basically a meme now kept me from killing myself not just for one night, but for a couple of years. Other times I’m just grateful beyond words. I’ve learned not to question what saves me everyday by now. Every now and then I’ll listen to Sigh No More again, and just listen to myself breathe.
After PCH, and after turning thirteen, what I believe to be the worst and most traumatizing part of my life began. I have repressed a lot of it - my body’s way of protecting me - so most times I can only give the most basic, blunt truths of that year and a half. I met a man through the Internet. He coerced me into a child pornography ring. He abused and exploited and manipulated me, and somehow, he doesn’t anymore. I haven’t heard from him or any of his cohorts in four years at this point, but in a way, that does not matter. There are parts of me I am still recovering in what will probably be a permanent aftermath. There are parts of me I will probably never get back. After all, you are only a child once.
Throughout all of this, including my anxiety beginning to border on debilitating because of it and keeping me from being a successful, functioning student/daughter/sister/human being, I still turned to music. I was writing more poems by then, but I spent most days listening to the same albums over and over, waiting for the sun to go down so I could tell myself I survived another day.
I listened to a lot of indie folk, or experimental indie, or indie rock - I listened to anything that was described with the word “indie”. I felt a somber, sisterly bond with Laura Marling and her first two albums, Alas I Cannot Swim and I Speak Because I Can. I tried to teach myself how to play “Landlocked Blues” by Bright Eyes on the guitar after listening to it on repeat for a solid day (soon after I learned I have no rhythm, and my hands are much too small to form proper chords on most guitars). I fell asleep every night to the album Flaws by Bombay Bicycle Club.
One of the best things I found through the Internet in my hunger for new music was a concept album by The Antlers called Hospice. Through it, a story is told of a hospice worker who ends up in a relationship with a patient with terminal bone cancer. It documents their meeting, their feelings for one another, and their inevitable downward spiral as the patient becomes more and more afraid and more and more sick.
Maybe it was because it’s all about hospitals (totally different hospitals than the one I was in, mind you). Maybe it was because I felt like sad music made me magnetic. Maybe it was the penultimate track, “Wake”, nearly nine minutes long that ends with the frontman repeating Don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve that over and over, louder and more desperate each time. I had a kinship with that album. At that point, I had a kinship with any music that was soft and pessimistic.
What bipolar, anxious, traumatized, scared teenager doesn’t, though?
part iii: in awe at the size of the moon (& a playlist)
In July, I went to my very first concert with a few friends - a band from New Jersey called Pinegrove in downtown Boise. I ended up being way too anxious to stand in the crowd, feel the music stir and slow-dance in my gut. Halfway through I went to sit at a table nearby and just listened from there. But some of the most vivid memories I have from that night are of sitting at that table, running my fingers over every goosebumps on my arm, being able to tell which one of my friends was singing with the band in the audience, and quietly singing along myself with my favorite song of theirs, “Size of the Moon”:
“I don’t know what / I’m afraid of / but I’m afraid / one day it all / will fall away.”
In most ways, I am still very much the same scared girl that I was five years ago. My anxiety continues to make me feel like a sky, a backdrop for overexcited rockets and faulty airplanes. I still feel haunted by what happened to me when I was thirteen.
What I didn’t realize until now, though, is that throughout all of this, there has been music. A lot of music, mostly the kind I listened to throughout those years that sculpted me into the adult I feel I am today, but I’ve also grown to love music that has as angry a heart as I do. I’ve also grown to love music that strives for joy, a message of hope or a loud light at the end of a silent tunnel.
For about eight months, I was a narrator for Esperanza Dance Project, a collective in Tucson that aims to spread awareness of child sexual abuse. Their recital, “House of Hope” uses five songs of varying genres to depict different emotions a survivor would go through. The third song, which is used to show anger and helplessness, is “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails.
I spent the first three months of narrating not even listening to the lyrics of that song - just letting the percussion and footsteps of the dancers rush through my body every time it was played. At one point, though, I was standing backstage, and actually began to comprehend what Trent Reznor was singing:
“Beneath the stains of time / the feelings disappear / you are someone else / I am still right here.”
Two and a half minutes later, I had to be back on stage, delivering a monologue about regaining a sense of self after being abused, but by the end of the song, I was shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. It felt like my abuser had been standing behind me throughout the rest of the recital. I didn’t stop shaking until after I was home, and had written a poem about what was going through my head.
Music has always been around me while I’ve been trying to cope and heal. It’s also been there to fill gaps in my everyday life, and I think that’s where I really begin to resonate with the idea of saudade:
I grew up with few-to-no friends, a semi-unstable home life, three mental illness diagnoses, and a whole lot of fear and self-loathing. Those were all constants in my life. But so was music. But so was saudade - longing for something I had only seen on TV. Nostalgia for something I hadn’t quite experienced yet. A melancholy kind of desperation.
Today, I have the group of friends I spent a lifetime dreaming about. I live by myself in the North End of Boise, Idaho, a little over 1,000 miles away from where I grew up and where my family lives. I write poems and sometimes yell them at audiences for a (sort of) living. I’m still mentally ill and I will probably always have a damaged relationship with myself because of the sexual abuse I endured. I still have days where I wonder how in the hell I made it this far. I still have days where I wonder why in the hell I made it this far - but again, I have learned not to question what has saved me, and what will continue to save me.
Right now, I am working on learning how not to question my own survival. I’m still alive. Despite it all, I’m still alive. The longing to be far away, or the longing to just be dead, has been replaced by a longing to keep everything like this - alive, resilient, unquiet.
I don’t know a word for that kind of longing, though. Hopefully, I will find it soon.
Lydia Havens' poem "Rest", along with more than twenty other pieces by contributors and two columns by the Half Mystic team, are compiled in Half Mystic's Issue II: SAUDADE, a stunning anthology of contemporary art, lyrics, & writing in celebration of music in all its forms. It is available for preorder now.