August 13, 2014
My wife Barbara and I had just broke up. We both were relieved—so I thought. I had to find an apartment and regroup. My friend Marmie was staying the winter with her son Bill, in suburban Lake Forest. Why didn’t I live there until I could get on my feet? So, from bustling Chicago, to staid and fancy Lake Forest. I lived in Marmie’s mother’s old bedroom.
Fall was cold; winter was brutal. After a lifetime of controlling my dark moods, I surrendered to them. I thought about death. And divorce—divorce was worse than death—the spouse was alive. My ex visited the Lake Forest house several times. We were intimate over and over again, clutching one another with utter closeness. It was a strange time.
On her last visit, my ex told me she was pregnant, from a guy she was seeing; she had to marry him. We lay on my bed, held each other and cried for two hours. And then she was gone.
I stopped coming out of the bedroom. Marmie left meals on the hallway floor. She would knock and say, “I love you.”
I decided to die.
I went out into the garage and punched a wooden stud on the east wall, severely breaking my right hand. I told Marmie and Bill, I had fallen. She took me to the hospital and an orthopedist set my hand. And he prescribed codeine/demerol #3.
That night, I lay in bed, the pills lined up in a row on my left side. I opened a fresh bottle of Jack Daniels and took pills and sipped, took pills and sipped. It took an hour, but stupor set in. I thought of my mother, who had been murdered only four years before then. I thought of Barbara. I thought of Betsy, my first true love, a fellow depressed person.
I thought of those tens of girls with whom I had been involved, in the “Jesus Christ Superstar” days, of the craziness of playing Judas, Jesus, of crazy girls who flung themselves at Judas, at Jesus, of the certainty that I was a father with unknown children, most likely in Canada.
I took the last pill, still awake. I drained the bottle of Jack Daniels, still awake. I said goodbye to my loves.
I woke up the next morning, having slept for eight hours for the first time in my life. I wasn’t even hung over. I was alive and pissed.
I went downstairs and joined the family for breakfast. They had no idea of the drama that had played out in the bedroom. Though, Marmie, standing at the sink with her plate of eggs and bacon, as was her wont, stared at me with hawk’s eyes.
Finally, she and I were all alone in the kitchen. “Tell me,” Marmie said, and I did. And she insisted I get help. By afternoon, I was sitting in my first ever therapy session. Only Marmie and I knew about this. Many of my dear friends are hearing the story for the first time.
I have been in and out of therapy ever since. These past two years, having moved from Chicago to back here, have been tough. I don’t fit here. I don’t share the nostalgia of my Alton High classmates.
I was brutally beaten by my father back then. My best friend’s mother was a nurse. She saw the bruises, the scars, the broken toes. She nursed me but was afraid of my father. My beloved music teacher knew. He and his wife sheltered me at their lake house. They were afraid of my father. I jumped from the roof of the Flamingo Motel, my uncle’s motel, in 1967. I didn’t break a bone.
I have to ask old high school friends who I was, in 1966, what was I like? Half the things Facebook friends reminisce about, I have completely blanked on.
My father didn’t make me depressed. He passed on depression to me, from the Miller (my grandmother’s people) gene pool. He was severely moribund and filled with silent rage, and I was his punching bag.
His mother was violent, depressed and cuckolded, and she buried herself in old time religion. She would stripe my back and calves with willow switches for no crimes. On her deathbed, she asked me to hasten things, to drown her in the Mississippi River.
People, I think, are missing the point of the Robin Williams story. Depression is the last frontier. You wear a cast on your arm and strangers in the grocery store want to know the story. You wear depression: where? There are no bandages, no limps, no sexy scars.
I would argue, humankind is depressed. Don’t get all Germanic on me; we all know what Germans did, what Russians did, what Brits did, what the Irish did to each other, what the Italians did, the Spaniards, the French, the Scots (my people). We’re a bloody people. We’re drenched in the stuff. So are Africans; so are American Indians.
We have certain knowledge; we’re currently perusing the obituaries: who will be the last? Small wonder we look up to the stars for a mythical place where we can shed our sinning selves and hope a patriarchal figure can give us a new lease. Small wonder, that babies are prizes. A comedian recently observed how easy it was to make a baby. You could get blind drunk and make a baby. But he was sure he wouldn’t wake up the morning after, having built a piece of furniture.
A lot of you wax poetic about your childhood days, write fondly of being spanked and whipped—it “made” you; it gave you character and self-respect. That, and church—that’s what people need.
Pardon me: bullshit.