All of this is true. The events occurred right before and during my medical leave from work a lifetime ago. I’ve never spoken of it. Not all of it.
And this is how it happened, how I perceived it to happen, more or less.
I’m early to work this morning, and Andrew is already here. He’s always the first person to walk through the door. He leaves the lights off until the masses arrive because the darkness keeps the space quiet. I like how empty the second floor is at this hour and how the dark sits quietly with me while I work.
I have a new pen and one of those desk lamps with a long, green, glass shade. I’ll work under lamplight until daybreak.
My eyes follow the tip of my pen as I inspect every curve of every letter on every word. It amazes me how many glaring errors go unnoticed by multiple people with each pass. Editing can be an endless process if one allows it to be, but at some point one has to let go. An editor has no choice in the matter. I love my job, I was born for it, but the deadlines are brutal. Stress will overcome my sanity sooner than later.
The elevator dings, and loud, obtrusive voices spill into my personal space. Someone flips the light switch, and the dreaded wave of florescent light blinds the room and chases away the serenity. As the quiet disappears and the darkness flees, my nerves rip through my skin. SHUT THE FUCK UP! I growl quietly. I’m pretty sure that Andrew hears me. He moans in agreement.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath, then I exhale and set my eyes again on the page. I squint to blur the words. The page is unbalanced. I mark to move the photo and pull up the text.
shut up shut up shut up!
I put my hands over my ears, and I hold my breath in an attempt to coax my nerves back to their quiet places. Nothing helps.
Add comma. Capitalize. no, don’t, shit. Strike, dash dash dash, ^ comma / stet //
Their, there, their…fuck…FUCK!!
The chair lets me fall back before it catches me in a reclined and comfortable position. I look at the ceiling, commending myself for strategically choosing a cubical that is not directly below a light, and I fantasize lighting a cigarette. Coworkers settle into their designated spaces, noisily falling into tired chairs, shuffling papers, typing, and checking emails. Phones ring. The day begins. As does the steady decline of my mood.
I unlock the front door, head straight for the bedroom, and then climb into bed wearing everything but my shoes. An unfriendly and familiar darkness emerges from the shadows, slithers up the bedposts, and crawls under my sheets. It cradles my body. I don’t want to be awake, so I wait for sleep to take me.
Hours of the day and the days, themselves, start to blend as I fade in and out. Events no longer measure time; wake up, go to work, come home, go to bed—the cycle devolves into a single, obscure moment. I have vague memories of being around people, but I don’t know whether those are memories of recent events or memories of dreams. Whatever the case, they are nothing but echos.
I wake suddenly and sit up. What day is it? The house is quiet, and I’m alone.
Walk to the couch. One step. Two. Another.
I sit on the living-room couch, calm but immobile, looking at the backyard through a window. I watch shadows pass from one end of the lawn to the other as I sink into despair. My heart pumps black tar, slowly. I have to will myself to breathe, but I don’t want to.
The front door opens.
I’m invisible, and seeing them when they can’t see me is too painful for words.
“Mommy! Come look!”
How does she…
I float toward the back door. I’m an apparition following a precious light, the light of a living embodiment of love, a child. How can I open the door if I can’t touch it? Is that my hand? How did I…
“Look, Mommy! A strawberry!”
Adoration floods my heart and drowns it in despair. Sweet little girls hunch over the little garden. I love you. Can you hear me? We planted those together.
but they don’t remember
they don’t remember me
they can’t hear me
Look, God. The sky. Grey, red, and unearthly. Look, the view of exile.
I pause and take in the intense isolation, clasping the end of a line that keeps me from floating away. I am terrified.
Is this my eternity, God? Watching my children, forgotten, never able to reach them?
Is this my hell?
The house is now quiet, and I’m alone. It’s another day, I think. The air is dead. Everything is dead. I am dead. To kill myself is pointless.
Except I’m conscious, so it’s not.
Cut lengthwise, not across, remember?
Will they emotionally recover?
Will they forgive me?
Where will I go? To that hell? God, tell me it’s okay. Let me die. This pain, this darkness, it’s…
Tell me it’s okay to die.
A downpour of unconditional love soaks me to my bones as I stand in the shower with a razor blade in my hand.
Despair becomes less severe, and agony turns into dull pain. I don’t understand why the peace doesn’t completely pull me out of the pit. But then, I do. My standoff with the blade is something I can’t overcome on my own, not in a single moment with a single decision. Working through my depression is something that I now see I have greater power within myself to achieve, not without help but with time to heal. I feel a strange mix of relief, gratefulness, numbness, and pain, and I am dumbfounded by my sudden clarity at the peak of my weakness. I set the unused razor down, and I can almost hear the angry hiss of self-destruction as my burning need to die is extinguished in the cool water that flows over my body and down the drain.
I can’t and don’t think beyond the goal of somehow getting from the shower to the bed. I carefully step out onto the bathmat and reach for the towel. I’m too weak to dry myself off, so I carry the towel with me to the bed. Lie down. Hold the towel. Hold it tight. Slee…
I open the front door to breathe in the life of bright green grass and blue sky. I can do this today.
It’s … grey.
Quicksand grabs hold of my body and smoothly pulls me down like a vacuum. I crawl back into bed and will myself to sleep.
This battle with severe depression lasted for several weeks, and most of that time is hazy. I don’t know whether I’ve written these events in correct order or what filled the spaces in between. What’s important is that I survived. The depression still hits hard sometimes, but not like it hit me then.
I never confronted my brush with death. Not really. Not until recently, when I met someone who took his life. I connected with this person, with Chris, on a very personal level. Writing this narrative has made me confront my past, and I was not only able but compelled to write it because of him.
Chris Cornell brought an ugly darkness into the light for me. He has made me face that demon, and he has stayed with me, giving me strength and courage, the whole time.
One of the perks of being human is that there are billions of us. In all the world, there’s someone out there who can understand and who’s feeling the same way as you.
this is pretty great <—You should click that link. You’ll meet Walt Walker, a wonderful storyteller. And if you don’t already know Chris Cornell, you’ll meet him there, too.
But in case you decide not to click it (you really should), I’ll share this like I have at least twice before.
Featured Image Source: Rain Room EXPO 1, Museum of Modern Art, New York