Houston, Winter 1997. I’ve been staying at my mother’s house for a few months to get a job and an apartment in Houston. I’m standing in the shower. The shower is one of those stand up things with no bathtub and it’s covered with rough beige one inch tiles. I lean my forehead against the tile. I lay in bed for 10 minutes every morning dreading this moment. Sometimes longer. Somehow I make myself get up and take this shower. Now it’s time for the actual moment I’ve been dreading. Turning off the water. For some reason, this bout of depression manifests itself as physical pain when I turn the water off in the shower. My skin feels like it’s being burned off. I don’t really know what that feels like, but I’ve read about it. This is how I imagine it feels. Eventually, I reach up and turn the water off anyway.
Boston, Spring 1996. I am walking up Commonwealth Avenue in Boston and I can see my girlfriend like a ghost through the second floor bay window smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. There isn’t much light in the apartment, but I can see her just the same. Maybe a lamp behind her in the living room. She hasn’t left the apartment for days. I have groceries and she will cook them. The food will be good. The conversation predictable. About once a week she will call me at work and break up with me. By the end of the day, she won’t be able to make it through the night without me. I am required to enter her mental space a couple nights a week to draw her out. Sometimes this is not pretty. There are lots of tears. Sometimes there is screaming.
I am thinner than I have ever been in my adult life. During the week, I only eat the food that she cooks. Sometimes I can make her get out of the house at midnight to walk across the street to buy cigarettes at the Ritz Carlton Courtesy Booth. If there’s a holiday, we spend a week preparing her to go to her parents house, pummel her with wine through dinner and go home. Sometimes on the weekends, we will go to my apartment that I keep for some ridiculous reason and watch football the whole weekend with my roommate. He isn’t much better off. We all ordered a pizza one night and when the pizza guy rang the doorbell, my roommate and my girlfriend both ran and hid. At least we were able to laugh about that after I paid for the pizza.
Boston, Winter 1993. I’m in the Charles River Park at midnight by myself. I haven’t slept in about five days. I work during the day at Blue Cross Blue Shield. When I look at pictures of me from this period of time, I look older than I do now 15 years later. I am unsure of what is real. I really don’t remember how I got here. It’s 20 degrees and the wind is blowing. I have this crazy obsession at the moment with finding a green leaf. I stand under a leafless tree with a wide canopy watching people (I can’t imagine they are actually there at midnight in 20 degree weather.) walking or running along the jogging trail. I walk along muttering incoherently and crying from time to time. I find myself facing a bush with one green leaf attached to it.
Every week on Tuesday, I go swimming with a recently divorced woman 14 years older than me at Simmons College. We were introduced through a mutual friend. We are close and should be dating but I am losing my shit. I tell her about the one green leaf with a maniacal intensity, and then I pull this leaf out of my pocket. After this, I never return her phone calls.
Houston, Summer 1989. My friend Justin calls me for the 20th time in a month detailing how he is going to commit suicide as soon as we get off the phone. I don’t have a car or I would go get him and take him to a meeting. The trouble that he is using as an excuse for his despair seems so minor 20 years later. He showed the police a fake insurance card after he got in a wreck. This isn’t the first time all of us (Justin’s friends) have been through this. We did this the previous year. I can’t help but be a little impatient with him. I half heartedly say that I will try to get a ride over to get him. I make a few phone calls but everyone says that they have already talked to him. They all feel the same way that I do. You just wish that whatever was clinging to him doesn’t make it’s way onto you. You want to help him, but he’s drowning and it’s definitely possible that he is going to drag you down with him. I spent months almost as depressed in his apartment with two other friends eating frozen pizzas and watching movies (Die Hard, The Hunt For Red October) on the VCR and listening to Pink Floyd. I don’t want to go anywhere near Justin, but I know he needs help. I also know that I am incapable of helping him.
No one goes to get him and he shoots himself with a shotgun. His roommate is in the next room. He dies an accidental death 12 years later in his apartment from combining prescribed anti-depressants with probably 24 cans of beer. The thing that keeps me trucking through all of my future bouts with depression is this one incident. I may want to disappear. I may want my life to be over. I may want the pain to end. But not at the expense of dozens of friends and family members.
“But you’ll fight and you’ll make it through. You’ll fake it if you have to and you’ll show up for work with a smile.”
There is plenty that’s bad enough to make you want to end it. There are fates worse than death. One of those fates is suffering through a loved one’s suicide.
I love the march on the snare. I love the plodding nature of the downbeat. I love how the whole band builds into a crescendo of defiance toward the end. The illustration about how sometimes you’re on. Everyone sees glimpses of freedom and greatness in your depression. Everyone can see you in your abyss. They all want to reach down and pull you out, but it’s damn near impossible. And then the energy dissipates in the end and the darkness engulfs you. And as you descend into your darkness for another indefinite period of time, you invent things, like the sing song nursery rhyme Jenny Lewis sings at the end of the song, to build a fantasy about something to look forward to. And you hang onto that for dear life.
I haven’t been depressed like this in a long time. If you have never been depressed like this, thank whatever you believe in for that! Because the truth is that for a good long time, there is no “…ship may be coming in…” You’ll just sit there and wonder what the hell is happening.