Brigitte Lewis




A bruise is a blue thing. I give myself one when I somehow step on the lower edge of my bookshelf. I don’t know how I manage it, but I keep the shelf from falling forward onto me and I end up with a linear bruise on the arch of my foot.  It appears the day after I fall foot first into the lower edge of my bookshelf and I am pleased. A hurt made visible is a satisfying thing.

I return to the bookshelf because I want to remember what I had been looking for. These are books on my bookshelf with a blue spine: Float (Anne Carson), The Chronology of Water (Lidia Yuknavitch), Days and Nights of Love and War (Eduardo Galeano), Lonely Planet’s guide to Iceland, Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem, David James Duncan’s River Teeth and The Waves (Virginia Woolf).

I open each to a page at random and—with my eyes closed—place my finger on a line.

A most beautiful sound [1]

I first met my mother the night before my first of three marriages, when she turned to me and said, I almost married a rodeo man. [2]

I didn’t ask him why he didn’t leave so he wouldn’t ask me why I didn’t. [3]

Do you see what I mean? Our interpretation is colored by intent. In this case, indigo stains my fingertips.



I am house sitting and I forget to bring my medication. I’ve missed two doses. But I’ve only missed two doses, I say to myself.

I take my medication at night, one and one half pills. I take a pill between my teeth and bite it in half. It’s inexact, but so am I. When I take this medication, I get drowsy, which is why I take it at night.  But it’s true that I also feel more possible when I take it.

At work, after missing two doses, I start to cry at my desk. For no reason. I’m not certain that these two things are related, but I am not certain they are not. When I start to cry, I am on the inside of a balloon. Its plastic stretched thin, I can see through its film of red to the outside – where everything is now tinged artificially rosy. I don’t buy it for a second. I can touch it, but I know it isn’t real.

Sadness is real. Sadness catches onto each breath and rides out of my lungs. Like a foxtail weed, determined to regenerate.

My coworker shows me permanent marker on his desktop where his son was coloring the night before. I give him a cleaner that will take it right off. When I move to the cupboard to put the cleaner back, I move slowly so as to not tip any sadness onto the carpet. Sadness is a deeper kind of stain.

Do you see what I mean?

This is what kills me about sadness. It is tinged with blue and lays a watery wash over everything. A blue balloon stretched over everything. A blue balloon stretched around me. Does this make everything blue or does this make me blue?



“The caoutchouc is exceedingly elastic,” Michael Faraday wrote in the Quarterly Journal of Science in 1824. Balloons were invented for myriad reasons, including military use and like Faraday’s intent, for use in scientific experiments. Galileo had even used a pig’s bladder as some kind of proto-balloon in his lab to try and measure the weight of air. Whether balloons are filled with atmospheric air, the exhalation of breath, gases noble or ignoble, they exist to squeeze tight against what they stretch to hold. When they can’t hold it any longer, a balloon will burst.

These are things people do with balloons: twist them into animal shapes, float in baskets beneath them, use them to treat arterial atherosclerosis, send them sounding into the sky to answer questions about the weather, pop them for pornographic pleasure.

Do you understand that when I say balloon I mean something that stretches to accommodate?

A yogi once told me that I breathe too shallowly, that we each have an allotted number of breaths to breathe in our lifetime, that I was rushing my breathing and, therefore, shortening my life. Mostly, I remember that the yogi had a young daughter and a young wife who was pregnant with another. He seemed tired and unprepared for the earthly motions required by fatherhood. He seemed vaguely annoyed at all times. He struck me as someone not to be trusted to offer useful advice on how to exist in the physical plane, but I know he was onto something about my breathing. I keep my breathing high and unattached, in and out and in and out, blowing up balloon and after balloon to stretch thin and step inside of, constantly blustering into the only air I can breathe, making blue the rubbery lens that leans me pleura into peritoneum. Pleura and peritoneum are two kinds of serous membranes, fluid-filled sacs that layer around tender organs. If I think of myself as a tender organ, if I think of my blue balloon as a serous membrane, if I think of myself (a liquid) suspended (in liquid) then the emulsion of me has to wonder if I am capable of breathing underwater.


I continue reading lines from books with blue spines.

Hljómskálagarður Park sits on Tjörnin’s southeast corner and has a section dedicated to sculptures by five Icelandic women. [4]

Questions of straightforward power (or survival) politics, questions of quite indifferent public policy, questions of almost anything: they are all assigned these factitious moral burdens. [5]

I start taking antidepressants when I am fifteen. I go on and off, on and off them for the next twenty plus years. I don’t like taking medication. I am wary of it, critical of it, and, each time after I’ve stopped taking it, always abruptly, always without my doctor’s knowledge, I become entirely forgetful it was ever helpful to me.

This time is different. I’ve told people: this is helping me. If I tell you I plan to go off this medication, please remind me that I don’t really want to. Grab me by the shoulders and give me a shake and say no, no, no, off this medication you will not go. I suspect that even in that self-sabotaging state, I will respond positively to rhyming, when, in truth, I know that if I ever decide to stop taking my medication I will do it without letting anyone know.

When I am fifteen, my doctor prescribes me Paxil. I go back a couple of days later and tell him I want Prozac because maybe I’ve watched Girl, Interrupted and read Prozac Nation, and Prozac is much sexier than Paxil. I am depressed and there is nothing sexy about that, but I am still an adolescent girl with a penchant for getting the details right.



This is how a bruise forms:

First, you walk around like your sea legs are strong. The land is something that tips away from you.

Second, you forage under the sink for a vase to put the peonies in; you find one, but you stand up too quickly and hit your head on the bottom of the cupboard. You are perpetually unaware of your surroundings.

Third, is an object in motion approaching another object (in motion).

Fourth, the levees near the delta plain of capillaries break and there is flooding.

Fifth, isn’t it easier to be carried away?



This is how SSRIs work:

Firstly, it stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor if you’ve never cared to look it up.

Secondly, stop telling people that smiling releases endorphins that might trick your brain into thinking it’s happy. Or is it dopamine? Or something else entirely?

Third, you’re going to have to trick yourself.

Fourth, the trick is to trick yourself.

Fifth, the only trick is to try and learn more about the ones that undermine and the ones that help; do less of the first; do more of the second.



When I am in college hanging out on the patio of some shitty dive bar with friends and friends of friends, one of them pauses and points at me with his cigarette. You are a melancholy woman, he says.

It’s startling. To be seen in this way in the middle of someone’s smoke break. Approaching exactness.

Blood is a blue thing until exposed to oxygen. I cut my nails—hurriedly, haphazardly—to the quick. The body is an uncooked thing being brought to a simmer. When one of my edges is rubbed raw, bruised, pricked, I bleed blue. A melancholy woman, sad at a cellular level.

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that emotions change every 30 seconds. A minute from now, I might be fucking ecstatic. I doubt it.



The old guy had died a hero; he’d gone down for the Rose Vegetable cause; his actions were the first I’d seen outside a boob tube or movie theater that bore even faint resemblance to Christ’s line: “He that loseth his life shall save it.” [6]

Yes, but I love to slip the virtue and severity of the noble Romans under the grey light of your eyes, and dancing grasses and summer breezes and the laughter and shouts of boys at play—of naked cabin-boys squirting each other with hosepipes on the decks of ships. [7]



This is how blue breaks you open:

Firstly, it is the color of creativity, which, essentially, is the state of constant birth, which, essentially, tugs words and shapes and heartbeat out of you and into a puddle of water that pools around your feet on the floor.

Secondly, it makes you think the puddle of water has nothing to do with you, but is seeping up of its own volition from beneath the floor.

Third, it deviates, veins visible beneath deliberately pale skin branch forearm faintly like long afternoon shadows that give nothing away.

Fourth, it is an upstart, headstrong, rare, guttural and growl – one blue moon after another.

Fifth, it is the splay of forget-me-nots you tap against your prefrontal cortex, trying, trying to remember, closing your blue eyes (same as your mother, same as your grandfather) against the brightness that makes you forget.



By now, my dosage has increased. I no longer have to bite the second pill in half. I just take two full pills. This is nice because the medication tastes incredibly bitter and stains my tongue numb when I have to bite into it. I have increased my dosage, but still find myself in one of my deepest depressions in what feels like forever, though we all know by now that my memory of such things (any things) isn’t superb.

When I am in this depression, I work from 8:00 PM to 5:00 PM. I take an Advil PM and sleep from 6:00 PM to 6:30 AM. I don’t eat. I skip therapy. I change my phone number as a transubstantiation of disappearance.

I am trying to not cut myself during this depressive state. It is my tried and true way of making my hurt visible, if but to me. I’ve never been one to make cuts on the parts of my skin that others might see. They are not a dialogue with anyone but myself. Still, I’m ashamed to be a cutter, though not for the reasons you might think. It’s such an immature expression… and not only do I—in my late thirties—still cut myself, I came to it well beyond my teens. It seems as though I should have moved on to some type of more adult form of self-harm. Something that a proper flagellant would do.



When I am in college hanging out on the patio of some shitty dive bar with friends, a friend of friends pauses, points at me with his cigarette, and says you are a melancholy woman, I feel exposed without warrant, not seen. This same man replied thusly to a female student—some other time, same shitty dive bar—asking to bum a smoke: how does it feel to want? The same man once said to me, after hearing me sing, that I must make the best sounds during sex.



When I cut myself, I use a pair of scissors open wide. As if they are doing the splits. I press both of my hands and the weight of my upper body behind them on top of the scissors. I bend the blade so the sharp edge is angled ideally, 45 degrees or so, toward the skin. I graph x-y coordinates. I scribe longitudinal inclines over my thighs. The result is asymmetrical, but balanced from side to side. It’s inexact, but so am I.

I am trying to not cut myself during the most recent depressive state for reasons I can’t quite ascertain. I don’t know. I’m tired. It isn’t scratching the itch.

Instead, at odd points during the day, I set a retractable ballpoint pen on my forearm with the point retracted. I click the button at the top of the pen and feel its point push into my skin. I hold it as long as I can. It’s a small thing: this act of blue devotion. Its consequence is a small welt encircled by an indentation. It is a poor explanation for the things that I am feeling, and the sting of the pain goes away entirely too quickly, but I am relieved to experience a hurt I can see. More often than not I am coded in a pain written in milk. I must be held up to the light long enough to decipher the markings, but not so long the cipher is forgotten.



When I am in college hanging out on the patio of some shitty dive bar with friends, a friend of friends points at me with his cigarette and says you are a melancholy woman, I am afraid he is right about me, that I am sad for no reason. Then I remember that he—pontificating lit cigarette one after another—knows nothing but the sound of his own voice. I understand this because I know little beyond the sound of my own. I know little beyond the sound of my own voice, but I am trying to listen to things that are decidedly not my voice more and more. Each day, or maybe each week… at least every so often, and when I remember that I am submerged, I untie the blue balloon that I hold, that holds me. When the knot loosens, an ocean spills out. I let it air dry before filling the balloon with expectant air, the kind that comes just before lightning, or an earthquake, or a tornado, and I breathe into it knowing that something is coming.



[1] Billie Holiday sings the blues.

[2] Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

[3]  If a ship’s captain or an officer died while at sea, the crew would fly blue flags. When the ship returned to port, they would paint a blue band along its hull.

[4] The Blue Lagoon is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. It is the result of the output from the adjacent Svartsengi geothermal plant and its surreal blue color comes from the fact that it is steeped in silica and sulfur.

[5]  But water isn’t really blue. Water absorbs red, orange, yellow light; when white light from the sun enters ocean or river, mostly blue light is returned. Blue is a love letter sent from water to my eyes.

[6]  In 1798, George Colman’s one-act farce Blue Devils was performed at Theatre Royal in Convent Garden. Blue devils were demon-like spirits thought to impart melancholy and sadness.

[7]  In “The Lament of Mars,” Mars is heartbroken over Venus “wyth tears blewe and with a wounded herte.”