Depression and Recovery

I.

It’s like an accidental fall off a fourth-story balcony. You hadn’t been looking at the edge, because you were so busy, and besides, you’re strong and you know what you’re doing. (Either you believed you were, or you pretended it because other people believed it — people who don’t have balconies.)

Then you’re over the railing, unable to tell forward from backward from left from right. All your ability to make decisions is gone, and nothing anybody can do will give it back. You free-fall.

Forever and an instant later, you hit bottom so hard it knocks everything out of you. Your breath, your sense, your emotions, your awareness. You black out.

They say a person in a coma can hear voices around them, even though they can’t respond. They say maybe even touch and smell, and who knows, maybe the light the doctor shines in one eyeball and then the next.

If there is a limbo, a place on the edge of hell that’s neither the living world nor an active purgatory, you’ve found it. It’s a place where you don’t have to sin to enter its dark waters. It just takes you, because you fell.

Voices murmur in the background, prayers and beseechings for the release of your soul. Some of them beg you to release yourself, to release them from the obligation of their prayers. Others try to shoulder the burden of bringing you to an afterlife, hauling your soul along in their hearts. It’s impossible to tell them apart, and none of them make sense, but it doesn’t matter. All that matters is hearing something from the living side, like sounds through water.

The doctor comes. Your case is experimental. Your brain is in a self-protective shutdown. No more feeling. No more thinking. He messes around with drugs. All the prayers go silent, drowned in the deepening fog of wherever you are.

You have no idea how much of your life you’ve lost. In limbo, no one is saved by counting those things. So no one tries.

There’s a rock on top of your shoulders, and you push at it. It moves a fraction of a degree, then falls back harder. You lose ground. The effort of keeping it from crushing you is a nearly intolerable kind of pain.

For some reason, you keep pushing back at it.

As long as I can. I don’t know if I can go another day. I don’t know if I can go another hour.

The doctor tries another drug. Your body is lying on a bed somewhere while your spirit fails to be Sisyphus.

You have no idea how much of your life you’ve lost.

II.

When your eyes open, you realize you’re still lying in the street. It’s night and the streetlights are out. No cars. No voices. No one is coming to help. They can’t find the route to the scene of the accident. There’s nothing but abandoned buildings like bones. At the farthest end of the street, if it’s not too painful to turn your head that way, your old life sits like a painting. You can see the sunshine and grass and mundane busywork sketched two-dimensionally, but it doesn’t call to you. It’s just a picture.

Slowly, very slowly, your brain performs a systems check. You lie on this bone-shattering patch of concrete for months, not minutes. Maybe for years. Reflexively, your body tries to get up and resume normal movement. It can’t. Besides, if you walk through a canvas you only break the image. You stay where you are and try to feel what you used to feel, but that painting of the former life isn’t coming to you, and you’re not going to it.

Slowly, very slowly, you find the pieces of yourself. Memory is here. Task execution is around somewhere. It’s racked up so much vacation time from repeating emergency drills from one end of limbo to the other that it’s not in the office reliably.

You find your simple financial math skills in a dusty corner, along with your ruined budget. Sufficient focus for reading comes back on like a construction spotlight in an abandoned subway corridor. Numbers keep turning to dust, and the light flickers in and out. Either the wiring or the power source still needs work.

Slowly, very slowly, you find the branching limbs of your psyche, but you still can’t feel them. This is the most terrifying of all. All your core nerves were probably crushed in the fall. Does this mean permanent paralysis?

In small increments, you try things that have helped you heal in the past. Oddly, it’s the really old things that work, things that lie closest to remembered pain from when you were too young to absorb it. Things that got buried more than healed.

III.

There are people walking past. You pull yourself upright and hope they don’t notice your broken limbs, your unwashed clothes, and your inability to walk. Your friends and family greet you. You try for old relationships, because maybe there’s comfort in them. Like pages in a crumbling book, no comfort lies there. Only the same old stories. Just when you thought maybe those connections were healing waters, they drown you.

Slowly, very slowly, you realize this is what it means to feel again. it feels painful all the time. It’s fresh and unexpected, like being wounded for the first time as a child. The same old stories hurt even more than their disappointments and disconnections did the first time. The pavement that broke you has turned to tar, and you’re stuck in it. You wallow on the edge of something dark and sucking, trying not to get swallowed by the gyre.

You look normal to everyone else, and they don’t understand why you disappoint them. They’re done praying, now, aren’t they? It’s time for you to hold a job and keep a schedule, engage in hobbies and do all the things a good consumer bobs around the surface of life doing. They have their life jackets, their brightly-coloured inflatable rafts and their snorkels in case they dip below the surface a little.

Your head goes under the waves again, and you wonder how inflatable rafts can float down the black road that killed you. There’s so much fog, and reality still isn’t quite real.

This is life. People seem happy with how senseless it is. This is normal.

The lights are on again. You don’t want to read the book.

IV.

A whisper you haven’t heard before snaps you out of it like an electric shock. Your eyes open for real this time. The lights aren’t just on; the morning sun is brilliant. Blue sparkles surround you, rising and falling. You’re cradled in the warmth of a Gulf current that rocks gently like a father’s arms. When you first gasp a full breath, the air tastes like tears. You choke and fight and everything is awful for a second.

It wasn’t pavement that tried to kill you, it was water that saved you. It wasn’t a balcony and you didn’t do something stupid. It was a plane crash, and you weren’t the pilot, just a passenger. You don’t know who else will be found a survivor. A lot of people die from this.

You’re not one of them. In this moment, that’s all. You’re alive, and you can swim. The ocean pulls you forward, and the salt-spice scent of seagrass finds you as the sand comes up beneath your feet. The water hushes against the land, then trickles away.

It was a long way to get back, but somehow, you’re here. So many things are still gone. As you look around, you wonder if you’ll ever fully take stock of them all.

You’re pretty mad at the pilot.

V.

You stand up and walk up the beach, aching and exhausted, but somehow whole. It hardly seems natural. You’re clear of the wreckage, although some of it is still washing into shore with you. The flotsam of your finances. Broken bits of opportunity and responsibilities. You’ll be picking up the bits of your memory for awhile yet, finding unexpected pieces missing due to defensive mechanisms triggered by the trauma of facing the void.

Looking back, feeling your way through it all again in a diagnostic that’s finally lucid, you realize the pilot brought you down where you wouldn’t be killed. It was wisdom, not negligence, in the face of something that happened because life is broken. In spite of it all, you were brought to where your life was saved.

Your dearest loved ones, who were travelling with you, are bruised and struggling forward. Here in the sunlight, now that you’re done trying not to die, you help them to safety. You sit down on the sand and breathe. Seagulls run the shore, and the grasses wave in a cool, brisk wind. Shells lie everywhere like gems. When did the world get so clean?

You lost everything in the crash, but the parts of you that are needed are the ones that have survived. The parts you couldn’t get rid of, no matter how hard you tried, the baggage you thought you’d never be done carrying around… that’s what’s gone.

You sit on the shore with your loved ones and weep. These tears taste like the sea and all its freedom.

VI.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.

-Psalm 139:1-18

The Greening

What is this grey? My morning’s window is a minor river, and the sun and sky are blanketed by a never-ending fleece. Late into the season, the trees still stand naked. Their fight to burst forth leaves has been in vain against the cold. A hundred-year chill.

Still they’ve stood trembling in the winds, budding defiantly. I think if they are forced to wait any longer, a mutiny will occur.

The rain comes down, and in the hour I’ve sat by the window, the world has changed. White poplar trunks are no longer quite so pale. Instead of the sallowness of winter dormancy, a faint hint of pale green tints them.

The grasses are dark gold, rich with autumn’s leftover colour and devoid of its lively variety. Grey road, dun world.

I wait a little longer.

Over in the corner of the yard, the tangle of chokecherry and willow is no longer a black scribble on a monochrome world. Red stems reach high like arms stretching to be lifted out of an underground prison.

All across the woods, leaf buds swell, bronzing the treetops. It’s that weekend. The one of resurrection.

What is this grey? Why is the sky weeping?

It’s just what happens at this time of year. Always has been and ever will be. Against this backdrop, the Paschal lamb and a dark night’s flight from slavery to promise. Against this New World thaw, the Roman occupation of the world that was, and the type of military efficiency that could invent a way to torture transgressors for days without requiring its soldiers to engage actively in the extended cruelty.

Crucifixion: An early example of automation, if you will.

Here stand the trees on the other side of the earth, raising fingers toward a sky that’s weeping. This week, of all weeks, spring finally shows herself.

She arrives at a rock wall with a hole hewn into it, expecting to find a decayed corpse well-flayed and left to rot. Death has happened and it’s done. Leaves have fallen. Cold has settled in. Limbs are icy. And it seems that it will stay this way forever and forever, all rumours to the contrary.

Instead, something has happened in the night. A sun’s ray of a soldier has removed the seal of death. Deep in the heart of the earth, a sudden breath is taken. The flaying and the icy cold are irradiated as the world tilts on its axis toward its source of light.

He has no remarkable appearance. Just a man. In the darkness, he unwraps the cloth from around his head, shakes it off, and leaves behind the bindings, neatly folded.

The seal is broken open.

She arrives, prepared to grieve what was and isn’t anymore. A promising and remarkable life, over. A disappointment to outlast all other heartbreaks.

Instead, she finds the Gardener.

Who else would be about so early in the morning dew? Just a man whose daily job is nurturing creation. Through tears she looks at him and past him, still looking for scars and wounds and the first signs of decay. He stands there, upright and with his dignity evident and unassailable, while she’s still expecting defiled nakedness.

She comes looking for an ending. And it is.

Winter always ends.

Deep in the woods on the other side of the world, the snow still lies thick and sodden. Last year’s foliage is crumpled on the ground like discarded newspaper. It has seemed that the resurrection forgot us this year.

The life I lived for the last decade and a half is over — in a way. Re-beginning, in another. It’s just so late. And I wonder if those years were wasted. Sometimes it feels like the biggest mistake I could have made.

But whether they were wasted or not, things are starting over. Always something new to try, something else to learn, some other wonder to see.

Even death won’t change that. This world struggles against itself, tearing down edifices and doing battle over great achievements. What about that other world, when this one’s strife and disappointment melt away?

A greening that will be.

There is no heaven with a little of hell in it.

-George MacDonald

In Which a Troll Moves On

Winter’s end is a carcass lying in the ditch, a yellowed sagging thing. The blackened bones of the earth jut through its sloughing skin. Dead grass litters the roadside like tangled hair. She was an ugly one.

And I am ugly too, today, rife with headache and a lesser bridge-troll’s interpersonal sensibilities. I have had simply enough. The world is disorderly, in constant need of wrangling and permanently on the edge of fatal error. I don’t feel that I have a kindred soul alongside for this. “Oh, well, we’ll get it when it matters, it’ll all be fine” doesn’t keep things running smoothly.

It’s the troll under the bridge does that. Looks for the cracks before they’re visible on the surface. Watches the floodwater levels. Fights off the dark haunts of the night in order to do it all again tomorrow.

Winter’s end is her own kind of haint. Her carcass self brings the burning of bridges.

In winter’s end, I go away from all I once loved and wanted. Though it’s been darkness to me the last few years, it’s been my darkness. I’ve gotten comfortable under its lid, lying unnoticed and watching for the roof to crack. Patching it all back together over and over again, not sure why. Dreaming of anyplace else.

Dreams are dangerous. Anyplace else has come to find me, and it has taken me prisoner.

My strength is gone after ten years of patching things back together. My back’s weak and untrustworthy. My knees give out when I climb the ladder for the harrumphteenth time. My hands are crippled twins, shot with pain from wielding trowels of various kinds. I have built my home at great cost.

But this world is a crumbling thing. The wind wears away at the lonely shores, and the stars fall down through the northern night. The home I have made goes too, out to sea.

My ocean is prairie, cold and tossed with frozen swells. It is both beachhead and rolling wave, poised in icy sculpted form over roadsides and fence lines. Winter is leaving late and reluctant this year, dragging spring down under the ice in hopes of killing her by hypothermia.

My bridge is falling down.

What’s an aging woman to do? I’ll be forty in a few years, and the toll I’ve paid in health may not be recoverable by then. I must let anyplace else come for me, and perhaps I’ll have the chance to live again. Perhaps I’ll find health and peace in the sunlight I’ve forgotten.

Free of cracks and patches and holding my roof together in this place I built with my hands.

It’s sturdy enough, now, and it’ll do fine for whatever takes up residence next. There’s good cement, fine tilework, even wood and walls and washed glass windows.

May it do well for the next one. My chains are on me. Paper chains like a child’s festive garland, made with her own hands’ work. Decorated with numbers, signatures and contract terms.

I am already sold to anyplace else. When the frozen waves melt into larksong, I am gone.