The Boy Who Climbed Trees

He climbed trees not for the thrill
of the effort it took, but for the vantage point
it offered.

Come here and look — 
A whisper of wind licked the skin on
his arms and traveled the nape of his neck
as he sat in a notch near the top of the tree
where he could see
past the confines of his small yard,
past his small town,
to the mountains that encircled them.

Beyond that was a world he tried to imagine,
and time on the wings of birds flying past
promising          promising          promising
plenty more trees out there,
waiting for him to climb.


~~ For Tom, Tommy, Tomas
Begun on May 6, 2018 to mark twenty years. Still a work in progress.


For in that sleep: what depression feels like

what dreams


Sixteen years ago my brother sat in a cozy chair in front of a picture window that allowed him a view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and ended his life.  He used a gun. The bullet tore through his brain and his family’s hearts.  We stopped breathing for years.  We told ourselves that he chose this because he was in constant pain. His spine was beginning to stiffen; he could not raise his head.  He went sock-less, because it was too difficult to pull them on.

It wasn’t just physical pain.  My brother suffered from depression long before the arthritis that immobilized his spine set in.  Like the color of our eyes or the set of our jaws, depression, anxiety, and addiction are characteristics that run in my family on both sides.

And, for the most part, we don’t talk about it.

I was a teenager the first time I thought about dying.  I took a fist full of aspirin, hoping it would — while also hoping it wouldn’t — be enough to send me to sleep for good.  My ears rang for days and my stomach burned.  Sometimes I felt so inexplicably sad and so utterly weary that I would simply start to cry.  If someone asked me why, I couldn’t give them a reason.  I didn’t sleep well.  Especially on nights when my father was particularly restless and drinking a lot.  I knew there were times when he thought of dying as an escape.  In the dark I stayed awake to listen, fearful that if he went, he’d try take the rest of us with him.

After high school I moved half-way across the country.  I made friends.  I drank too much, I still cried, but only when I was alone.  I laughed like hell with my friends; I was charming and fun.  My eyes darted around the room as I wondered whether anyone would guess how miserable I really was.  I felt like my feet were encased in cement — if I fell in a river, I’d drown.

I wanted just to be happy, to be normal.  I wanted to know what was wrong with me.  I kept those wants to myself.  I thought that in thinking about my unhappiness, I was wallowing in self-pity.  People wouldn’t want to be around me, if they knew.

Eventually, stress and the struggle drove me to the third story edge of an open floor on the house my husband and I were building.  I was alone there that afternoon.  I knew that if I let myself go, my family would assume I’d fallen accidentally.  I was afraid of heights.  There would be no shame.

I chose therapy instead.

Today, I am an ongoing work-in-progress.  I don’t know that depression ever completely goes away.  Even after years of therapy, and many more years of taking antidepressants, I sometimes still get blindsided by a cavity of despair so dark and deep, it seems never-ending.  Other times depression hits me with a flip-flop of emotions, wildly fluctuating from bleak despair to . . . Okay, I’m coping . . . wait . . . nope . . . going dark again.  Often, in the space of 30 minutes or so.  I have to talk to myself a lot.

Sometimes, I just want to hide.  I want to go into my room and not answer the phone or answer emails.  Mostly, I don’t want to tell anyone when I’m depressed. Generally, they don’t understand.  People seem to want an explanation as to why.

I’ve learned when I need to ride out the storm.  I know that when I’m tired and overwhelmed by things my husband and others take in stride; when I get so busy I don’t eat well (or enough), or when the damn world is just too much with me, I have to retreat for a bit and simply be quiet.

A great deal of the time I am happy with where I’m at, content with how I got here.  I laugh a lot and mean it now.  Managing depression is work, but so is living, even in the best of times.  We all struggle with something.

Several months after my brother’s suicide, my family got together, still raw and hurting from our loss.  We went to see What Dreams May Come.  I think we must have thought it would be cathartic.  It wasn’t.  The vision of Hell reserved for the woman who took her life horrified me.

Robin Williams’ suicide makes me crushingly sad.  It’s the kind of heavy sorrow that weighs me down.  He was the brother/son/father/friend we all wished we knew.  A rapid-fire wit with a thousand different characters, the genius of which we are unlikely to see again.  We all knew about his problems with alcohol and cocaine.  Addiction is flashy and loud and calls attention to itself.  Depression is a quiet little liar and a sneak.  It whispers in your ear and tells you lies that no one hears but you.  Robin joked openly about his battle with addiction.  He said little publicly about depression.

I hope that we start talking more openly about depression.  About how quiet, but debilitating it can be.  It won’t be easy.  I have a difficult time talking to anyone other than my husband and a few friends about it.  When I do, I feel awkward and whiny and I end up changing the subject.

For my brother, for a sweet prince of laughter, and for all the other voices stilled, please keep talking about depression.  Keep listening.  Listening without judgement, without asking why.  Be kind.  And if you or someone you know feels worthless and depressed, you can find someone to talk to here.



An imperfect man

My Dad as a teenager.  Even then, a sharp-dressed man.

My Dad as a teenager. Even then, a sharp-dressed man.

My father is a nutball.  He cannot pass a tea shop without buying bags of loose tea.  Even though he has enough already squirreled away at home to last him into the NEXT millennium.  He buys clothes for the same reason the Kardashians do — because he loves a snappy outfit.  Unlike the Kardashians, the other part of the equation for him, means getting that new shirt or pants or pair of shoes at the lowest price possible.  There is no tickled pink like my father’s when he’s wearing something that he likes and knows it cost him less than the price of a movie ticket.

I understood from an early age that my father was different from other fathers.  It was much later that I chose the word eccentric to describe him because it seemed a more benign way of summing up a man I have struggled to understand.

He didn’t play ball or push us on swings or take walks with us.  He didn’t read us bedtime stories or tell us silly jokes.  When he wasn’t working, he was catching up on his sleep.  He could be at various times controlling, intolerant, and self-involved.  He often grew belligerent when he drank too much, which he often did.  His alcoholism ran like a ravenous wolf through our lives until the evening when members of the local volunteer fire department wrestled him into a straitjacket and drove him to the St. Lawrence State Hospital.  I was nineteen at the time.

There are no Father’s Day cards for that.

He was a complicated man.  He pinched pennies and bought food and shoes and blue jeans in bulk to feed and clothe seven children who grew faster than his wages.  He locked up the extras and doled them out as needed.  He became proficient at hording.  (So much so that he cannot break the habit decades later even though he lives alone.)

For a while he had friends.  Guys he grew up with and worked with and stopped at the hotel with to have drinks.  But, he was also kind of a loner who stayed up late reading on nights when he wasn’t working.  He believed in education.  And penny-pinching as he was, he surprised us once by bringing home a complete set of music appreciation records that taught us about Brahms and Mozart, Gilbert and Sullivan, folk music, gospel, and jazz.

He insisted on listening to classical music on Sunday, and going to church, and sitting down to big Sunday dinners.  He was so fond of Christmas that he let us eat candy all that day.  When his father died he cried openly.  When my baby sister Susie died at two days old he cried openly.

Once, in a moment of light heartedness, I plunked myself on my father’s lap and I hugged him.  He looked at me and said, What do you want? As though I had an ulterior motive.  I jumped up, stung.  But even as my teenage self bristled at his remark, I knew — I’d seen the look in his eyes and understood it — the hug had pleased him.  He just didn’t know how to accept it.

And therein lay the crux of my struggle:  Angry as I could be at my father for his meanness, I somehow sensed that he loved his children, even when he couldn’t articulate that love.  I sensed that the person he was most disappointed with was himself.

For a few years I wore braces.  On those trips home from the orthodontist’s (more than an hour’s ride away), in the lull of the drive and the comfort of a few drinks in him, he shared his thoughts with me on life and the world around us.  For a brief time he talked to me, not as a kid, but someone he could trust.  He told me what his dreams had been, what he believed in, what he wished he still could be.

My father is a sober man now.  He has been for more than 30 years.  But conquering his alcoholism didn’t vanquish every demon that possessed him.  A few remain.  He still wants things the way he wants them, and he can still be maddeningly self-absorbed.  But last year, when my son graduated college, my father was so excited that he drove from his home in rural northern New York to Amherst, Massachusetts to attend the graduation, without a cell phone or a GPS, both of which he refuses to own.  He left somewhere around 4:00am, to give himself time in case he got lost (he did), and made it to the college with just minutes to spare.

He is still a complicated man.

There are so many kinds of fathers, and Father’s Day cards are not made for all of them.  Sometimes we just have to make one of our own.


Because it’s Monday, I’m linking up at Mod Mom Beyond Indiedom where you can find a tantalizing array of other blogs.  Check it out.

Waiting. . . .

Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.

                                                                       — Henry Van Dyke

I can be impatient sometimes.  (When my husband reads that line, he’ll laugh, and say sometimes?)

Mostly, I’m impatient about waiting.  Waiting on hold for customer service, waiting in heavy traffic.  Waiting for my husband to chop vegetables when I’m rushing to get dinner on the table.  It’s one of the character flaws that I need to attend to most.  And I’m trying.  I really am.

I try to schedule doctor and dentist appointments for the exact time the office returns from lunch, so that I’m in and out before things get backed up.  I try to avoid driving anywhere during rush hour.  I try to breathe slowly when I have to wait.  Often I try to distract myself with something else.

Which is what I am doing now.

My son lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  After the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday, it has felt like anything can happen.  We have all been waiting for the answer to the questions of who and why all week.

Last night, before I went to bed, there was news that a shooting had occurred at MIT.  Shortly after that reports of an explosion in Watertown.  I wondered whether it was connected to the bombing on Monday.  I think most people did.  And then, when I woke up this morning I discovered that it was indeed connected and that one of the suspects was on the loose, armed and possibly carrying explosives.  The entire Boston area was under lock-down and everyone had been told to stay indoors.  I’m pretty certain that shutting down an entire city like that to search for a suspect has never happened before.  At least not to my recollection.

Fear is a rat that ran up my spine.

I immediately texted the boy.  Are you home & okay?  I waited for his reply.  Thirteen minutes, I waited.

Here is another true thing about me:  In the face of unusual circumstances, I am apt to imagine a multitude of scenarios.  I tell myself it’s a writer thing, I make up stuff all the time.  Sometimes, depending on how much time I have, I can terrify myself.  Thirteen minutes is a hell of a long time.  More than long enough to imagine a desperate bombing suspect hiding at the house my son lives in and holding everyone captive.  Which would explain why my son can’t text me back.

That image, however wildly unlikely, was enough to set my heart racing.  I picked up the phone and called, whereupon I found that the first, more probable scenario I had imagined was correct.  He was still in bed.

Still, I’m glad I called.  It was comforting to hear his voice, to know that for the time being he was safe, and I could say aloud, I love you.

But now, I’m back to waiting and I hate that.  We are all waiting for something.  For answers to questions we haven’t even thought of yet.  For closure.  For peace of mind.  For the violence to end.

The mama in me wants to get in my car and drive to Boston and bring my 24 year-old baby boy home.  But, I know I can’t.  I know that like everyone else who has been affected by this, I will have to wait.

The waiting is excruciating.

boston boats 2