Mental Health of America

Story by Alexis Simmons, Artwork ‘My Secret Garden’ by Kimberly Gust)

KimberlyGust for Alexis Simmons

I didn’t know what to do. My car needed $900 in repairs; I had no savings and $12.52 to my name.  My son needed food and clothes on his back. I didn’t expect my car to break down for the third time.  I hung up on the mechanic and thanked him.  This was too much. I had a WIC appointment next week; Jackson needed to see the Doctor.  I sat in my car; I don’t know where my phone went.  Maybe it fell through the seat after I dropped it.  I stared at the roof and threw my hands in the air.  Tears flowed down my face like raging waves of water.  I threw my hands in the air and hung my head on the steering wheel.  If struggling and hard times is all life consists of I don’t want it.  All I want to do is graduate and be able to provide for my son.  Nothing is falling into place.  I don’t feel capable of taking care of myself, let alone another little human being.  I broke down, swallowed my pride and decided to ask my godmother for help.  She drove a Lexus, had a big house on a hill in Plainfield and made six figures.   I found my cell phone, slowly dialed her number and desperately waited for her to pick up. 

     “Hi Keisha, how are you?’ I said.  ‘Hey Ms. Alexis, I’m fine how are you?’ She exclaimed.’’  This was it, I couldn’t back out and I know she was waiting for a response.  “I’m just going through a really tough time and I need some help.’ ‘What’s up girly? Do you need some money?’ ‘I do, actually my car needs work done and I don’t have any money.’ I said.  I could sense her hesitation and slight concern.  “How much do you need?”  “300.00.” I said.  I waited for her response and the first thing she says was, “Are you going to pay me back?”  This woman who is supposed to be my Godmother, who hasn’t done anything for me or my son, who makes six figures asked me, a single, unemployed parent, and college student with nothing to pay her back.  “I could just take whatever you can give, I will do the best I can and talk to my father about the rest.”  I responded.  “Okay Alexis, don’t cry, we’ll figure it out.”  She hung up the phone.  I was so embarrassed.  This is why I don’t like asking people for anything, because it turns into this huge thing, this huge obstacle, this big hurdle that I can never get through.  How can I pay people back if I don’t have a job? If I can’t work?  I could just end it all.  My suffering.  All I have to do is finish what I tried doing eight years ago.  I could go quietly.  Put a Jewel bag over my head or drink a cup of bleach.  I could sit in this same stupid car and freeze to death.  It’s the middle of winter and it’ll look like an accident.  I hate myself and I hate my life right now.  When I told my aunt I was pregnant she said, “Are you sure you want to keep this baby? Being a single mother is the hardest job in the world and I don’t wish it on anybody.”  Those words mean everything right now.  I never imagined the struggle until it actually came.  I wish money grew on trees, I wish I could hit the lotto; I wish that I could do better.  Be better.  I wish a lot of things, but I know that none of them will come true. 

      I thought that I had gotten over all of my suicidal thoughts.  The bullying and the ridicule sucked as a child and growing up, but I got over it.  Boys touch you, people don’t like you, and sometimes you get bad grades.  It was all a part of life.  Just sticks and stones I guess.  But I have a baby to take care of? I think I’m doing a horrible job.  I went to baby classes alone, carried groceries alone, gave birth alone, and now I’m suffering alone.  This isn’t how I thought things would turn out.  I wanted my child to have all of the same luxuries I did.  I want to be able to give Jackson the same childhood I had.  He could do better without me.  I’m a horrible person, and a pretty fucked up parent.  All I want is to take care of him.  To do the best I can.  This is the THIRD time this car has broken down.  I want to sell it, junk it or something but I know I can’t.  I want to get a new car but I don’t have a job and I can’t afford it.  That seems to always be my problem.  I am so grateful for the assistance I get but I do not want to be a welfare mom.  I need it though.  Jackson needs it.  I was happy once.  I sang and I danced and I always showed everyone my smile.  I was a cheerleader and a Girl Scout.  I made everyone laugh once.  I rarely used to cry; I was never stressed or angry.  I don’t like what’s going on.  I don’t need this ‘mad at the world’ persona.  It’s not the world’s fault I’m an idiot.  Another 30 minutes in this cold, stupid car go by.  I cry another river and pools of tears flow down my face.  My eyes are red, my nose burns and I’m starting to get a headache.  It’s so cold I can see my breath escape my mouth.  “God damnit, damnit” I screamed.  I yelled, screamed and shouted in sadness.  I’m tired of crying.  I take a deep breath and think about my baby boy.  I’ve been in this car for almost an hour.  I need him right now and I’m sure that he needs me. 

     I wipe my face; he can’t see me cry.  It’s the last thing that needs to happen.  This is another crazy, stupid obstacle that I will face and overcome.  I’m strong.  I can do this and I have to mentally prepare myself to march inside and put a smile on.  I may be struggling, but I am a great mother and I’m doing well in school.  What am I talking about?  I can’t commit suicide.  I cannot do that to Jackson.  I just need to breathe and focus on the good.  At least that’s what my aunt tells me.  I will get better and maybe even see another counselor.  Right now, I’m going to run inside the house and hug my baby.  We need each other and I can’t live my life without him.  I can’t leave him.  Things will get better and they could also be worse.  I will be myself again.  I didn’t seem so cold anymore.  I got out of the car, closed the door, and took a deep breath.  Just breathe.  That’s all I need right now, a breath and a hug.  A cup of hot chocolate would be nice too.

Author and Artist Bio’s

Author Alexis Simmons, Chicago, IL

My name is Alexis Simmons and I am 24 years old. I am a 2013 graduate of Northern Illinois University with a B.A. in communications. I was raised in Bolingbrook, IL and attended catholic schools, participated in dance, Girl Scouts and cheerleading. I have been writing ever since I was 12 years old. Seeing my first poem in my high school newspaper was one of the greatest days of my life. I have had several literary works published as well, but mainly in school magazines. Writing has always been an outlet for me. With so many wonderful and horrible experiences take place in my life, paper and pencil has been my outlet for years. A counselor encouraged me to write and it has changed my life ever since.

You could say that I have lived a good life. That’s where the trouble comes. From being bullied, harassed and also near a break down; I was able to seek help and become the woman I am today. My life as a young mother has enabled me to possess so many emotions and learn so many things. My two-year-old son has taught me more than I have taught him. He is everything to me and so much more. I am not sure where my career will take me but I hope to continue writing and eventually obtain my Masters degree in either speech pathology or psychology. In my spare time I enjoy being with my son Jackson and doing whatever else makes me happy.

Artist Kimberly Gust, Chicago, IL

I have been working with oils since I was 14 years old.  I enjoy painting pictures of gardens and natural fields, marshes, bogs, fens, rivers and oceans.  I paint in a very fast pace, laying down colors, filling in forms, setting the foundation, underlay of color.  I layer color over color, creating texture and form.  Then when I finish a step I analyze the painting to make sure each and every element is represented; Color, form, line, shadow, and impression. 

My first memory of producing artwork would be coloring in a coloring book on the floor of parents home, surrounded by my father and mother and my brother and sisters.  My primary medium is oil painting; I was introduced to this medium when I was a high school student in the early seventies. I experimented with different styles and I was very interested in producing works of art that I was familiar with and that would be apart of my nature and my own familiar surroundings. I wanted to tell a story about my early years by laying down the things that influenced me the most. My grandmother’s and my mother’s flower garden would be my inspirations for many paintings, many beautiful gardens. One season would be the daffodils lazily shifting in the breeze or it would be the brilliant array of phlox magically impressing themselves on us.

I went college, UW-Madison, and explored my love, Horticulture.  It is something I treasure everyday, it has been a big part of who I am as an artist and a scientist.  My love of gardens and painting them has grown into the choices for my paintings.  I love to walk in the woods and see the specific elements that a tree or a plant has offered to us this season. 

I am also, a photographer, and I love to share with you some of my favorite photos, on my website,www.kimberlyjogallery.com.  My third favorite things is my pottery, I was able to learn how to throw when in High School, and later in England where we lived for a while.   I am taking pottery, and I love the glazing process, I consider it a painting process, mixing chemicals and glazes to come up with a very different palette.  I have worked with Raku firing, and soda firing – each unique and beautiful.

“My Secret Garden” –  A place to sit and reflect on problems, cry out the pain, curse, scream,  to seek out resolution, when life sometimes is unfair, it’s a place we all have in our lives and in our hearts, where we can go to think out loud.  It’s a place where no one can hear us, but you can work out your plan to move forward the best way you know how, just one step at a time. It is all we can do.

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