February 7, 2014
I have been struggling with depression, made all the worse by the devastating weather. I had two major surgeries in eight weeks, and allergic reactions to three medications. I’ve been sleeping two and three hours a night. And came a dread at each sunset, darkness swallowing the sun, shades being pulled and me and Scout the Cat holing up in our doll house.
Scout enjoyed staring at birds and all the wild animals in the snow. Me, I’d been watching television, thinking about death and the Big Bang theory, and all my artistic gifts ultimately meant nothing. I stopped writing my book, stopped smiling, started eating chocolate and bacon and pizza.
Until this morning.
I woke up hot. The comforter and afghan were smothering me, as was my sweat shirt. I remembered it was winter and stayed hot and thought. Scout burrowed under the comforter and jammed her nose into my right armpit. I finally got up and went to take my morning meds.
I glanced at the refrigerator . . . and there was a photograph of me, winter, 1999, hanging on the fridge door. I was depicted standing in the woods, February, in a snow drift, no shirt on and my friends laughing and pointing. That was the old Gene. The new Gene, depressed Gene, dons a hoodie and wool cap just to step outside to get the paper.
And I stripped off my sweatshirt, slid into my hiking boots and walked outside, bare-chested, into the five degree morning. I picked up the paper but didn’t go inside. I walked the forty yards to the road and watched cars. I have a shaved head, many Indian artifact tattoos, and I was bare. No one even glanced at me. My new neighbor lady came out of house and walked her dog towards me. She didn’t blink. It takes a lot to throw a Midwesterner. (I would find out that Irene was from New Jersey.)
I walked all around the four acres of my yard. The bare trees had vertical snow stripes. Fallen branches hosted black/white juncos, like eighth notes on a base clef. Catbirds called from every which direction. Migrating thrushes, headed for Michigan, were resting beneath my finch feeder. Two northern flickers hammered at the maple tree in the south yard. House finches sang madly. A great blue heron swooped low over the woods. Crow caw-cawed: ‘my human.’ Chickadees scolded me at eye level: ‘fill the feeder, Naked Ape.’
And my chest was burn red. And I held up the rolled newspaper like it was the Olympic torch. I beat my chest with it. I shouted a primeval, guttural yowl.
Spring is coming. Two days ago, I drove on the Great River Road towards Alton. I saw something run across the ice. I pulled onto the shoulder of the highway and watched a red fox chasing gulls, a hundred feet out into the river. Its tail was a puffed-up swath of rust and brown. It had to be a female, hunting for a family of kits or a family to be. Redwing blackbirds perched on the stones on the beach. Spring is coming.
It will come back: depression. I’m better equipped to handle it than I was two weeks ago. Oh, and I still think about death and the singularity of the Big Bang, that a universe can be born of nothing. And I was dying the minute I was conceived, and so were you. The youngest, cutest baby among us is dying.
Small wonder that we have the great American works, Wilder’s “Our Town,” Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology” (the quintessential cemetery works), O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Gay’s “The Paperhanger,” and Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff.” And the greatest work of all: the god Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Two weeks ago I read “Godot” and I wept. I read it again last night and laughed my ass off.