It is 4:32 and I am lying awake, tender like a bruise.
At the meditation/writing retreat I sat on my computer and broke its casing. It lost the small screws that held its sleek aluminum back on and there is a small crack that is open to its insides. It is hard to see but I know it is there.
Leo brought my laptop with him on our vacation and after a bit of using it it’s fan wouldn’t shut off and it became hot, almost scorching to the touch. We unplugged it and it cooled off. But the battery was broken so without its connection it was useless.
I relate to the computer.
I have felt the depression coming and have tried to ward it off. Steve is gone for the week and I am going to have to be very careful if I want to get through this without having it effect the boys. I look at my calendar and try to find a time to see a friend each day. Taking a walk or eating lunch out, anything that keeps me from my bedroom helps. If I go through the motions of my life sometimes I surprise myself and show up in it.
I ask a friend to have lunch and her text back is brief. “I can’t. Too many errands.” What is this? I asked myself with fondness. She is such a grownup. I would never let errands get in the way of lunch. I can’t even imagine what these errands might be. They sound sort of good though. Maybe I need some errands.
Once upon a time there were errands. When I was a little girl, little enough to sit in the back seat of whichever incarnation of Volvo we drove, I went with my mother on her errands. Lying awake in the middle of the night trying to get back to sleep I reconstruct our route.
In my memory it is chilly outside and my breath is fogging up the window of the car window. She tells me to stop as I trace a heart in the mist, giving it two dots for eyes and a smile. She is worried that it will leave smudges and she is right. When it dries off I can see other hearts, older, marking the glass.
We start at the dry cleaner. Well, we start by circling he block several times looking for a place to park. We are in newton center, newton is a suburb 7 miles west of Boston large enough to have 13 of these little clusters of shops and restaurants (quaintly called villages) but this, true to its name, is the biggest. It is shaped like a large triangle made up of several blocks. There is a T stop here and I watch people trudging up the old steps from the train. The old railway station is large and beautiful but it is locked. This is before the time of reclamation and at least a decade before Starbucks will have lines out the doors. Instead the lines are at the payphones.
My mother has not found a place to park. She is swearing softly. “Can you just wait with the car?” She asks. I nod solemnly as if I could possible move the car if needed and sit tall in my seat. She double parks to run into the dry cleaner and I wait. Alert. Each car that passes us has to slow and some shake their heads at me. We are stopped in the exact spot that my father will park in years later and have his car stolen. He left it running, driver door open, to grab a coffee from the shop that doesn’t exist yet. The thief just got in and drove away. The police caught him before we could even file the report. He got pulled from the car so quickly that he left his butter soft leather gloves behind. When my father held them up triumphantly I understood his pleasure, the thief’s error would trump his own in the retelling.
Today I am safe. No one wanted the Volvo.
My mother has the rear driver door open trying to loop the many metal handles onto the impossibly small plastic hook. She is rushing. When she finally gets them in the clothes are bulky enough to be the size of another person riding next to me. My brother, I decide, someone who would not have been nervous about the other drivers making their way around us while we are double parked.
Now we have gone down the steep section of the road to the bank. This was he age before direct deposit but after the drive through window was installed. The sweet days of banking. Our bank is the first to install a second and third lane that are serviced by a giant vacuum/tube system. I wanted to be the one to take the Jetson’s like canister out of the tube. I crawled into the front seat and leaned over my mother. She tolerates this. When I roll open the lid there is a white envelope filled with crisp bills. Even better there is a lollipop.
Next I wait for her to get electrolysis. I sit in the small room, legs sticking to the padded vinyl chairs, picking chocolates out of a small bowl. I hear murmurs in a Russian accent and a Zap. My mother has been at war with a small handful of hairs on her chin. I am mystified by these hairs. Sometimes she has me look for them because they are too difficult to see. In my middle age I will understand the zap of the machine, know the taste of metallic saliva, and smell the burn. The electrolysis will not work for me either.
From here we go to the Chinese Laundry. This is the precursor to strip malls with beautiful brick and decorative parapets. My favorite Jewish bakery is here but my mother will get to smell its yeasty warmth as she picks up bagels and thin sliced rye. I am holding tight the paper ticket for the shirts. I walk down the stairs to an indoor alley. There is a loud bell as I use my full weight to push open the glass door. It is a good thing there is a bell because I am too small to see over the counter. My hand, clutching the tickets so fiercely that the paper has begun to sag with sogginess reaches up, but my face is pointed at raw wood wainscoting. I can see the staples where it is held together. The man, whose name my mother knows, exchanges the ticket for the shirts, plucking it carefully from my fingers. He offers me a mint which I take to be polite. The lollipop is waiting for me in the car. I carry the shirts carefully in both arms. They are wrapped in paper and crinkle pleasantly like a present.
My mother is not yet back to the car so I try to imagine her. I picture a cake box in her arms, one that might contain rugelach, or black and white cookies. Decades after this my Methodist husband will bake rugelach for me to take to a Christmas cookie exchange. Today there will be no cookies. Instead my mother comes out of the back door of the cobbler with two plastic bags in one hand with the bread and bagels. Shoe box in the other. I can smell the polish as soon as the door opens. I hold it all on my lap, shirts and shoes and bread and bagels.
I’ll drive slowly, she reassures me, as I try to keep our riches from sliding onto the floor. She is in a rush no more.
This bit of memory has centered me. Pun absolutely intended. You know why? Because when I am deeply depressed I don’t make jokes. It is 5:26am now and I am feeling better than I did just 12 hours ago. At dinner things were very quiet. Not a poop joke between us. Oliver, usually one to pose a question to debate, is picking at his chicken. I am sitting, missing Steve, gently poking at myself to see how sore I really am. I am worried that I am not doing well at all. “What’s wrong?” Leo asks, in a mixture of sympathy and accusation. “I’m not sure.” I tell him. “Everything and Nothing” is the answer I don’t want to burden him with. I want it to be a birthday, or 11:11 so I can squinch my eyes tight and wish him safe from these feelings or these lack of feelings or however this episode will play out. It is my most realistic fear, that I will damage my boys with these feelings. Or these lack of feelings. Or however this episode will play out. I find myself right on the edge of being able to help calm his concern, help myself, but I can’t. I imagine opening my arms to him, him sliding across the bench to me and everything feeling a bit better. I can see it because it has happened so many times before. I imagine over explaining something, like SSRIs and neurotransmitters, the way I do baby making and other things they ask about. I imagine his face opening in understanding and eventually in laughter as we take whichever science topic we are dissecting from the rational to the absurd. Instead I look at him in silence. I can’t quite do anything for us now.
I stand and clear my plate and the boys follow me, somber, into the kitchen to clean. Leaving the downer dinner table things are immediately better for them. They decide on a game to play together and I can hear their voices still in the high pitches of boys even though they are not so little any more. I have done this for them at least. Even on days when Steve is away, and I am slipping, they have each other, a fraternity of two.
I make myself stay downstairs until 7 and I turn on music and do a crossword puzzle. I try to take in the velvet of the loveseat, running my fingers across it. I am proud of this find, dug out of the storage room of a vintage shop. Well cleaned it is a precious place in our living room. It has hosted family meetings, and many cuddles. The boys have napped and wrestled here. I try to hear the echoes of joy from our everyday life. My brain is working slowly, songs are playing but I only hear static.
It is 7:02 so I release myself. I am allowed to go to the bedroom. Walking through the barn door I reveal the bed which is both a source of solace and of temptation to take a break from real life. I take a shower, I put on lotion. That is something that I do when I am not depressed. I have on new pajamas. They have stars on them that are so small that I keep trying to brush them off thinking they are lint.
Very deliberately I pick up the tv remote and set it out of reach. I lift the covers and climb into bed. It is 7:30. I reach for my book and stretch my legs and tell myself that I have things under control. Oliver walks in a little early for reading and catches me with my eyes drooping at 7:45. “Maybe you are too tired to read?” He offers me the remote. “We finished our last book anyways.” I realize he isn’t trying to tempt me, but is arguing his own case. “Sure.” I tell him. “We can watch tv.” “Wha did you and Leo end up playing downstairs.” He looks at me with confusion. “When you two decided to play together after dinner, what did you do?” “Oh, nothing, Leo wanted to play with his online friends.” He is not even the tiniest bit upset by this. This is standard. I watch him as he navigates the list of shows we have already recorded. He is tan from vacation despite sunscreen, he is here in my bed which for him is only comforting not a portal to a world apart. I try to breathe him in. “Do you mind if I scream?” He asks me and he is yelling YELLING. “LEO LE-OOOOOO.”
Leo tumbles onto the bed, fresh freckles highlighted by his grin. They are both laughing. They are fine. I haven’t broken them.
Now it is 6:04 am. I am giving up going back to sleep. It might be useful to blame my sluggishness on being tired rather than being depressed. I can hear Oliver in his bedroom, up before his alarm. He is ready to get going on his day. A hallway away
I am looking ahead at the next 12 hours even if I am not looking forward to it. I can tell they are going to be better than the last 12. I will go through today slowly. I will brush my teeth and put on a bra. I will write and walk and meditative. I will follow up on some things for the school and run an evening meeting. After all of that I will come in the side door and the dog will pee himself with joy to see me. The boys will be happy too. They will have eaten pizza, the box still out but the counter beneath it will be clean. I’ll ask them about their days and Oliver will tunelessly sing a song from the musical he is stage managing and Leo will tell me about the 100% on the math test that I already know about. I will sit on the loveseat and one of them will make ice waters and another will sit with his legs on my lap. I will stroke his shins noticing that the hair has grown just the littlest bit thicker even though it is still golden blond. I will think that it feels even more beautiful than the velvet I am sitting one.
I will have a headache, I will be tired, I will miss Steve.
But I will be there in my life.
Which is certainly more everything than nothing.