Sabrina Benaim, author of Depression & Other Magic Tricks, has connected deeply with readers and reached millions of viewers through her poetry, breaking down the stigma around mental illness. Now, she dives into challenging and universal territory: grief over a relationship’s end, loneliness in a world under lockdown, and the anxiety of caring for a loved one from afar in the wake of a serious diagnosis.
Unfurling over the course of one month in 2020, in seventy-five original poems, I Love You, Call Me Back grapples with mental health struggles and the uncertainty of the moment and beyond. In isolation, Sabrina dares to embrace loneliness in all its permutations: the sorrow of getting your mother’s voicemail when you call to say “I love you"; the bitter-sweetness when your dog takes up your ex’s side of the bed; the joys of eating ice cream for dinner and singing badly, loudly.
In her raw and deeply relatable style, Sabrina reminds us to love our whole selves: you can’t have joy without sorrow, and being anxious or depressed doesn’t mean you can never be happy. In her words, “Sometimes self-care is just surviving.” And that’s okay. Sabrina shows us that there’s beauty and courage in that, too.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I dress in the dark. It does not matter if I forget my necklace or earrings. Keep forgetting which day of the week it is but remember to eat breakfast. Swallow the good white bullet that poisons the place where the lonely breeds. I am dancing again, in the kitchen, spicing sliced pears. I am baking again, in the restful yawn of morning. Each afternoon, I go for a walk through the cemetery, place pennies on the "Speller" graves. Sit in the grass cross-legged with the flowers and write a new religion, where we pray only with and never to. Read poems aloud and remember my favorite lines onto postcards I will procrastinate sending to the people I love. I live alone. Eight states and a border away from home. My cups are clean and upside down in the cupboard. I watercolor peonies instead of picking new wounds. When my tiny talk machine chirps, I do not always check it. I do not wish to see a ghost. I do not wish a summons. I allow myself to go entire days without speaking to anyone, except my mother. I swallow two bullets blue each night for the ever-grief. Sleep. I have not used the word depressed to describe myself outside of a poem in months, but I am drinking Diet Pepsi again. The thing is my head is a bright place I would not hesitate to invite you into. I've painted all the furniture marigold sunrise. Today, at 7-Eleven, I asked for a lighter and do you know what color the cashier gave me? Yes, keep me in this canary dream where I sugar scrub my lips soft as feathers and pretend to kiss. I confess, sometimes I cry when I look in a mirror, but I tell myself it is the mirror who is crying with jealousy. On the generous days, I tell myself I am sweet enough to spread on toast and call dessert. Then, I giggle, I am not afraid to feel silly. I am not afraid to feel anymore. You know, I wish I wasn't so sad, I have been in such a good mood. Want to know a secret? I think being in love is just a better kind of lonely.
Isn't that what you'd say, Sabrina?"
Immediately I thought,
I've seen an episode of Grey's Anatomy about this.
I google :
aortic aneurysm / thoracic not abdominal / 5.6 cm / surgical procedures /
open repair vs. endovascular / stent vs. graft / risks / common complications
can you stop an aortic aneurysm from growing?
can you stop an aortic aneurysm from growing holistically?
what happens if a 5.6 cm thoracic aortic aneurysm ruptures?
why are all the aortic aneurysm statistics only documenting men?
statistics for the survival rate of women who just turned sixty last November with a 5.6 cm thoracic aortic aneurysm.
We hang up the phone.
I ask Siri,
Which season of Grey's Anatomy has the episode
with the aortic aneurysm
where the doctors did everything they could.
Siri asks me to repeat myself.
I am not ready for my mother to die.
I don't understand the question.
i put down my phone & binge watch
an entire season of a reality tv show.
ice cream for dinner & i'm dairy free.
for hours, nothing matters.
i water the plants out of habit, not care.
i watch the episode of Grey's Anatomy
which is about an aortic dissection,
not a boring aortic aneurysm.
this comforts me in the slightest,
but it could have been the ice cream,
or how my mom declared only four puffs of
a cigarette since the diagnosis.
she wants to live.
we will wait for tests to be done
to determine the appropriate procedure.
i see the colossal swell of depression
cresting over my day
& instead of holding my breath,
i wave to an old friend.
on video call,
i apologize for my splotchy skin
& my best friend tells me that i am beautiful
says that is the best thing about my face
Tomorrow Comes Anyway
My skin hurts
& I don't like my hair.
Tomorrow comes anyway.
The sun is not inspirational,
it is on fire.
I have become
the queen of the uninspired.
I was once queen of the firebellies,
fell in love with everyone I met,
said nothing about my love,
let it grow & grow & grow until
the whole of it was gone.
Like the moon.
The moon is aspirational,
it can be here & invisible.
I want you to know that
is almost exactly how I feel about myself.
I can be queen of disappearing from everywhere
except the mirror.
& it's easy to say a shadow is still a body.
What exists cannot un-exist,
only burn out,
fall out of orbit.
My mind goes insane
& a body is a body,
even if I look at my body
& see a most misshapen thing.
My skin, it physically hurts,
but I don't want to die,
I just want to lie on the road
for a little bit
while it rains & everything glistens.
Reigning queen of the glittering.
I rub my eyes with sparkles every day.
I want to see the world this way;
I want to look in the mirror,
reflect my shine back
I don't see anything
i imagine diving into a bed of milk thistle & scratching
my skin new.
i allow rotten thoughts like this to bloom like moon vine
in the midnight hour.
i am ashamed.
i wish to exist as ladybug, fruit fly, small enough to hide
inside of a tiger lily.
In a Text Message
the man I am in love with says to me,
"it's just that, in my head, you aren't real."
and like that, poof! I am a ghost. You once begged for a haunting. But you know what? Maybe some other time. Ha. Time is not real. I mean, I am more real than time. You are cruel. A kiss goodbye. A spell. Like the notes of a piano when you finger the right keys. Dancing in the living room, in your arms, you rolling up the sleeve of my T-shirt, wasn't I real enough? Perfect and temporary. A bloom curious about winter. A peach-colored rose called cinnamon. I fix myself a dinner of dandelion wishes; to be real to be real to be real. I sit on my yellow couch. Sing along with Mac when he says, I think we just might be alright. I will be alright. The rocks are aligned on the windowsill. The cutlery is asleep in the top drawer. Everything has its place. Your place is far from mine. Your face is far from mine. I think about missing you. I let it go. My hands do not shake when I remember I can barely remember how to dance in the dark. I buy a candle. I forgot my name, dyed my hair, sunset the song. It skips; my heart gallops away. Yes, I went and you stayed behind. And then you got mad and told me not to come back. But then you got mad when I didn't come back. And you didn't talk to me for months. And now you don't want to talk to me anymore. The first thing I do is forgive myself for how long it's taking to look in a mirror, touch my body and feel myself, better than perfect and good as any flower; I am real.
I move in slow motion.
Nauseous by midday.
I become a thick plume of smoke.
I flag surrender
& depression takes me.
It is peculiar; the numb spell of
antidepressants. I wake up and repeat, and
repeat. Every day, in the park, with the birds
and their wing-flap rat-ta-tat takeoff. I only
dream of staying. But where? But how? I
use my fingernail to carve my initials
into the bark of the tree in the park, where
I sit for days, waiting to hear the wind's
voice. In the park, I am under the
impression the wind has forgotten
my name. Under a moonless sky,
counting cherry pits, I curse each star
for teaching me how to sit cross-legged
and burn. I must have died thirty deaths since
I last saw myself. In the park, the feeling
of wanting to say something true knits my teeth
together. I blink the minutes by, ask for wishes
from blinking streetlamps. The raccoons
drum a racket outside on the lids of
garbage bins, their noise another empty threat
of company. I do not care for sleep, unless
the dreams are of water towers painted with
my name. A whisper in the wind begs wait, or
perhaps the whisper is coming from
me. I want to believe the future is
a beautiful place. I reach for it, but my arms
round pill to ease the panic
peach coin currency of calm breaths
compressed zip file of medicine
sugarless rocket disintegrates into dreams
swallowed missile to dissolve the quivering
& at once a hug a straitjacket
Each night my alarm rings 10 p.m.,
I bring my body,
perfect chandelier of teeth & bone,
to the altar of the bathroom sink.
I place two blue
berries of ripe motivation on my tongue
If it weren't for this,
I would do nothing but worry.
Imagine my mind,
a light switch,
this is the hand
that turns it bright each morning.
during the video call the doctor asks about effectiveness
I bloom open each sunrise
wide as hibiscus petals
& what about side effects
the unbearable tightness of blue jeans
afterward, I sit at my desk & scroll through my camera roll
waste an hour comparing my body to its old figure
spiral into cans of aspartame bubbles & nothing else
burn the toast / toss it to the birds / do not make more
I cannot name all of the ways I have attempted to bend my bones
on the video call the therapist asks
when the disordered eating began
black bodysuit / pink tights / room of mirrors
& what do I love about myself here now today
as if the shiniest penny I might find
won't still be a penny
there are things I do because I know I am supposed to
things like leaving voicemails or salting the water when it boils
some days I cannot bring myself to think about chewing
if only I were fuchsia & flower
all I'd ever have to swallow is the sun
mom tells me her next doctor's appointment is in three weeks.
. . . three weeks.
Introduction to Santina
Red hair red lips & red nails to match
Black eyeliner & hairspray
Forever in heels
Walking disco song
Peacock confidence / Blows kisses to herself in the mirror
Grounded / Afraid of heights
Bad with directions
Cries at commercials
Live, laugh, love enthusiast
Dancing queen / White zinfandel, two-glass maximum
Loves to host a party
Loves knowing her neighbors
Loves a love story / a good love song
Favorite holiday: Christmas / Is Santa Claus
Is the sun
Will answer to Mama Bear
She is waking me up for school.
Driving me to dance class.
Carrying the groceries in with both hands.
In the basement doing the laundry.
In her gray cleaning T-shirt.
Reading books aloud at bedtime.
Putting on elaborate shows to make us laugh.
Reading books with dramatic flair.
Helping with homework.
Taking me shopping for new clothes.
Doing my makeup for recitals.
Brushing knots out of my hair.
Making the bed alone.
Making dinner alone.
Sitting at the kitchen table
Ready to talk.
Buying me peach schnapps for prom.
My first box of condoms.
Scolding me for smoking pot in my bedroom.
Fighting with me about sleeping all day.
In the doctor's office waiting room.
The therapist's parking lot.
In line picking up my prescriptions.
FaceTiming me while I am crying.
Pulling laughter out of the dark days.
In the passenger seat telling me to slow down.
On the plane to celebrate my thirtieth birthday.
On the phone while I drive across the country.
She has always been there.
The Good News
is spring still came.
Hyacinths & strawberry
Myrtle spilled over concrete corners,
those little lime green plants,
the ones that look like Shrek ears
sprouted into high-rise bushes.
The robins built nests.
Their perfect blue eggs
nuzzled in Desiree's mailbox.
I check on their well-being via Instagram.
I open the windows
to be a part of the world outside.
The world is outside,
yet is unfathomable.
I stay inside
baking banana bread,
learning unnecessarily complicated TikTok dances.
I spend the early evenings wandering
the empty alleyways covered in fallen bubblegum petals.
I am talking about the flowers
because I miss touching you,
being touched by you,
being touched by anyone
who is not myself.
I am numb to the desperation
buzz of the are you still watching screen.
I want the sound of people talking
to fill my empty kitchen
while I wash my single dish & cup.
I have to keep reminding myself
an itch does not exist to be scratched.
I have to stop drafting
tweets composed solely of melodramatic lyrics.
To distract myself
I infuse honey with cardamom seeds,
practice French braids. I study
the robin occupying the tree
outside my living room window;
the robin sits & does nothing.
I mimic it for hours.
I am your wife. You bring yellow flowers
every Monday when you arrive home.
I keep them out on the wooden table
no taller than a tulip standing
on the shoulders of another tulip.
We go for walks after the sun goes down,
steal daffodils from the neighbors' gardens.
All I want to talk about is loving you.
The wind rustles the rocks that hang on string
from the magnolia tree in our yard
like chimes, we waltz slippery in our socks.
We eat too many sour candies, but
live content in our little cavity.
we have a family-wide video call at 7 p.m.
i am watching my nephew laugh for the first time
through a screen
i am watching my mother watching my nephew laugh
everyone is beaming
Mabel wakes me up at 4:57 a.m.
Outside, it is quiet as a cemetery; nothing
but the sound of insects.
The feeling of not being good enough writhes inside of me.
Mabel doesn't care what I look like as long as I feed her,
play with her, keep her from getting bored, take her out,
and love her.
I do all of these things for myself and yet I cannot leave the house