I don’t normally comment on the photo of the week – after all, it is about the photo and an explanation should, for the most part, in my opinion, not be necessary. Dirty knees may not seem to fit the bill for endurance, but please you, me, they do. I have some serious issues with my feet and doing any physical labor while standing can be extremely painful. So, these are the knees of endurance – building a retaining wall in my back yard. Not a marathon run but after a couple more hours, endurance was what it all became about.
I am very weary these days, struggling to stay afloat in a sea of grief and stress. It is difficult to find a safe shore to rest upon and when by chance I do find a moment to lie my head down, anxiety churns the waters. So tonight I thought perhaps I could try a story of a lullabies – lullabies that eased weary souls a long time ago.
When my daughter Nene was an infant, she was at first calmed by the old standard by Brahms, but as she grew into toddlerhood, she began to prefer more rousing tunes. She had a strange proclivity toward military anthems and Linda Ronstadt’s, “You’re No Good.”
I remember one particularly grouchy afternoon at my grandmother’s home. Nene could not be cajoled or convinced into thinking anything other than the world was coming to an end and she had to meet it with her lungs giving full voice to her song of woe. My grandmother, mom, and I were stretching to our respective wit’s end. Four generations of women were about to implode and bring Nene’s prediction to fruition.
When the tension and noise finally reached ‘this will drive out the armed fanatics holed up in the house’ level, my mom asked if there was anything else to try. I said well, it sounds odd, but we can try the “Marine’s Hymn.” Mama and Mom looked at me like I was nuts, but at this point it was that or actually call in the Marines. So, I started in with, “From the halls of Montezuma…” And it worked!
Mama and Mom started chiming in and Nene fell into a stupor that would have won a prize on “America’s Funniest Videos.” By the time we finished “Anchors Away”, she was out, lolled over in her little yellow walker. Always her own, that kid.
Sixteen or so years later, Yoda was a completely different story. He definitely preferred the more melodic, slow tempo themes. Often I would hum as smoothly and dolce as I could muster the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” or a quiet version of some folk song culled from my memory of “Sing Along with Mitch.” But the one song that would always close the deal, was “Little Red Caboose.”
Now if you Google this song, you will more than likely be bombarded with versions containing inane adults wearing engineer outfits and singing the lyrics in an over the top Barney fashion. The version I sang was one I found in my collection of old 45rpm single records – a slow spiritual, one sung or hummed right gives the slow, rhythmic rocking of a train moving down the tracks. It was a perfect tune for an active and sensory issued baby.
One afternoon while Yoda and I were out visiting my parents, he had reached his infant tolerance for sociability and began to fuss. So, at that point I swaddled him up tight and removed myself to the dining area to try and calm him down before it went over the top. I could recognized the signs a wee better with the second child…
My Mom stepped off to I don’t know where, to give us space to work I guess. My Dad went to sit in his chair in the living room, not too far from where I was sitting with Yoda. I began to run through my repertoire of songs and then moved in with the closer of “Caboose.”
I rocked, sang, and the hummed for about 5 minutes and the little guy finally settled into a nice little nap. I could even hear a small snore. I smiled and listened again. This wasn’t Yoda’s snargle (what we had termed his breathing issue common to baby boys when born small – another story). I turned my ear to the sound again and realized that my Dad had fallen asleep!
When it came time for me to leave my parents’ house that afternoon and I went over to say goodbye to Dad, he pulled me in and thanked me. When I asked what for, he said it had been a very long time since anyone had sung him to sleep.
Eleven years have gone by and it still brings a smile to my face to remember the time I sang a lullaby to my Dad.
Sleep well, Deddy-O, sleep well.
In the late 1960s, our neighbor Mr. Lynn introduced my Dad and brother Stavro to the exciting world of motorcycles and they fell in love. Soon our two car garage was filled with all manner and makes of bikes: dirt bikes, street bikes, minibikes and even a couple of mopeds (the kind that have pedals to start the motor).
Our weekends soon consisted of family day trips out to the Phoenix desert to ride until it became dark. Round and round we’d go, racing through dry river beds and over cracking dusty roads. I remember stopping only to eat lunch and gaze at the beautiful brown Arizona mountains. Even at that young age I was filled with an awe for their dangerous majesty. I love the memory of those times.
Sometimes the urge to ride couldn’t wait until the weekend and Dad would pull out a street bike and take me for a quick ride after he came home from work. At that time, there were still pockets of places we could take a mini-desert ride inside the city. Phoenix was still sitting on the edge of the mega city it was to become.
On one particular evening, Dad said, “Let’s go!” Never willing to pass up a ride, I climbed on the back of the motorcycle, safely wrapped my arms around his waist, hooked my fingers tightly into his belt loops and off we rode heading for the empty lots between two neighborhoods. We slipped past the bar recently planted to keep cars out and into the wilds of Phoenix suburbia we rode. We did our usual circuit and then Dad hit the little mounds of dirt to make me bounce and laugh. I laughed so hard, I was breathless, but with a child’s enthusiasm kept urging, “Again, Dad, again!” It was on one of those last go rounds that I happened to look behind us. Someone else was out for a ride and closing on us fast. He had lights mounted on his bike.
I tapped Dad on the stomach to gain his attention and motioned for him to look behind. “I think he wants us to stop.” Seems the last bastion of space we could ride free in the city was now under police state and some non-motorcycle loving resident ratted us out.
We left our little haven with a blue slip of disappointment. Dad was a bit embarrassed to have to admit to Mom about the ticket we received, but of course nine-year-old little me thought it hilarious and kind of scary exciting. It didn’t occur to me that our evening rides in the last little oasis were over. In a child’s mind things last forever. But of course, they don’t.
Stavro traveled to Phoenix a couple years ago and visited our old haunts. The empty lots are filled with houses. The desert we rode upon is swallowed up by urban sprawl. The dusty roads and river beds paved over. The beautiful brown mountains in the distance are now crowded up to their bases and shaded with pollution.
And my Dad is gone.
I know that Dad would want me to keep pushing onward, to stay on the bike and keep riding, even taking the chance of seeing the lights flashing behind me again. He was proud of me for taking on some pretty bouncy and terrifying mountains throughout my life and conquering them. He never failed to tell me that.
What I failed to tell him was that in my heart I always had my arms around his waist, with my fingers hooked into his belt loops knowing that if I held on tight enough, just over the next hill was the promise of breathless joy and laughter. There would be an open space to ride free and say, “Let’s go!”
But there will never be another evening ride. No more, “agains.” Grown-ups know these things and that’s the hard part.
I’m trying Dad, but without you the motor is terribly hard to start.
There is a precipice at the edge of sanity.
Cold, hard and sharp
it stretches out a panoramic view,
a brilliant abyss.
Dragons dance and demons whisper
sweet and warm,
Strings, then threads are cut
with a witless edge.
Weaving time without a hem.
The silence calls, beckons,
invites the comfort of
So simple to take the step —
a leap of bounds,
One of the things I hold dear from the week my Dad died is his comment to me that he was proud of me and that he was glad to have “his Sam back.” You see, for a long moment in time no one was sure if they would ever have me back.
Normally, I don’t speak of those times very much and especially not to strangers. It is not that I am ashamed, but rather a life long sense of shyness and privacy holds me back. When taking a psychology class in high school, we students were asked to use one word to describe ourselves; my word: private. It is a hard thing to overcome, but with this sudden and disturbing death of Robin Williams, I somehow feel compelled to reach out. Bashert says no one can tell a story as well as one who has experienced it. As the Talmud says, “Save one life, save the world entire.” or as a friend said last night, “Untreated depression is a terminal illness.”
So big breath….
I hail from a nice, middle-class family – the iconic midcentury family: two parents (each of the opposite sex), three other siblings (two older, one younger) and a rotating menagerie of pets. By the time I came along my parents owed their own home and we had a plethora of extended family. My Dad supported the family financially and my Mom supported us all at home. As I said, iconic. Get it? All American Family. Nice people.
But it doesn’t mean anything to the black hole that is Depression.
Using that crystal clear vision know as hindsight, my dance with Depression began early in life, but it didn’t become a slow dangerous tango until the early 90s when I entered my thirties. It was then I no longer had the lead over my own life. Depression slowly took control and by 1996, I was a knife blade’s edge and one signature away from either taking a heavily escorted ride to Milledgeville, Georgia or finding out for sure what happens after we cease to exist in this form.
Another big breath…
Written descriptions can never really reveal the desperation, the depth of despair that clinical Depression brings. So I am going to give something that I have never given before – a glimpse inside my mind of those dark days – an entry from my journals. I have changed names and left out a few references because they concern specific people whom I do not wish to reveal.
As you read these words, remember – I have loving parents, siblings, friends and doctors surrounding me, supporting me. Depression does not care.
11 July 96:
My well of resources is about dry. I’ve managed to hold on until now. Bits and pieces of saving grace have fed my hopes, but I can’t seem to comprehend anything of grace now.
Monday, I checked into a motel because I couldn’t bring myself to return to the house – the questions – the outrage, the suggestions, the sympathy. Too much, too much. I couldn’t be with anyone. I didn’t want to be with myself.
I’ve been on a downward slide for a long time. I’ve told you and others, but everyone seems to think they know me. That I have this powerful inner strength to help carry me through. I’ve said it in words and shown it in deeds. I’m dying.
My inner strength is used up. I’m tired and I want the pain to stop. I’m trapped and very much alone. People say wait to see what tomorrow brings; don’t let the bastards win; it’s a no-win situation, blah, blah, blah…I’ve used the words myself [remember ‘R’?]. It’s all crap when you’re on this side. She should have called the cops. I have many layers and I’ve reached one that doesn’t give a shit about promises, loyalty, or trust. It will be soon. My anger and despair are calling for rest.
I’ve begun making the lists of things to take care of – things that needs to be tied up. Sometimes it makes me queasy, but mostly it gives me calm. So much tension to be (sic) releaved.
My new little knife has become a comfort token. I’ve taken it with me everywhere. It even stays in my hand all night long. It gives a pleasant warmth.
I wonder if any sleep will come tonight? I’ve started my program of aspirin. It would be nice to rest…pack up your troubles in your ol’ kit bag and smile, smile, smile…
Depression is not just sadness. It is a deep, soul sucking despair that cares for nothing but ending the pain. It doesn’t care that you have a spouse or children that depend on you or parents that worry about you. It doesn’t care that you have fame and fortune or not. IT JUST DOESN’T CARE. It is a never ending darkness that steals joy and wonder from inside. Outside the world may seem fine, but inside? Inside there is nothing but the hunger for escape. One does not simply pull up your bootstraps and move on.
It takes a massive amount of effort and energy to combat Depression. The person with Depression is not the only one who wears out. It is frustrating and painful for all concerned. Depression is a sneaky jerk and can trick even the most experienced eye. I was lucky and had some very stubborn people in my corner, who just wouldn’t give up on me no matter how I far I fell, faked it, or pushed away. There is no ‘cure’ for Depression, only recovery. It is a lifetime battle often fought minute by minute.
Depression is a mental illness that needs more exposure and not by more loss. If you or someone you love is suffering, please, please get help. We don’t need anymore poster children.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255
Nature Boy – eden ahbez
There was a boy
A very strange, enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he
And then one day,
One magic day he passed my way
While we spoke of many things
Fools and Kings
This he said to me
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return.
Once upon a time, in a previous lifetime when I was falling apart to come together, I was obsessed with playing cards. Solitaire was my constant companion; I played hour after hour, shuffling and reshuffling, black on red, red on black – a coping mechanism to soothe and wait for the world to make sense again.
In my present life, I do not play cards that often. Instead, I collect them. Each deck I acquire, either from a place visited or just an old, interesting design, reinforces the awareness of how far I have traveled. They are markers of all dark things conquered – trophies.
Nowadays, I use many distractions, FB, Pinterest, old videos, but mostly I’m found with my nose stuck in a crossword puzzle book. Codewords, cryptograms, syllacrostics and the occasional word find are my solace and escape today. They keep my mind awake and numb at the same time. They are also a touchstone to my Dad. “Great for waiting,” he said.
That’s what I brought to him in the hospital: a crossword puzzle book. Something to pass the time between the alphabet barrage of testing: EEG, ECG, EKG, CT, PT, EIEIO…
Dad was not the best speller in the world, so sometimes his solutions to crosswords were a bit inventive. We think it has to do with the fact that he really should have been left handed, but back in the 30s left handedness was still seen as well, suspect – especially back in the dirt farm area Dad came from. The teachers tied down his left arm so that he would learn to do all with his right hand. It worked to a point. He ended up ambidextrous – I play cards and use a computer mouse left handed thanks to him – but his spelling was always lousy.
I was lucky to pass the time in conversation, as well as, work a puzzle or two with him that week. The talks were long overdue. We talked and talked for hours. I kept asking if he wanted to rest, but he kept declining, saying he wanted to chat.
We spoke of his love for literature and science. We pondered the energy of the universe – that energy is neither created or destroyed – and how he thought there is ancient energy all around us. He asked to borrow some of my archaeology books so that he could learn more. He said the subject always fascinated him – proper archaeology, too, not paleontology. We talked of passing age milestones; the psychological sense of relief both my sister and I felt when we successfully passed the age of 21, the age his sister was killed by a drunk driver. We talked about the new home Bashert and I just closed on and the things we were going to have to do to our fixer-upper, including the floor.
Dad told me that when he worked for Taylor Furniture as a young man, he hated when people would come in to look at flooring because he would have to move entire rolls of linoleum around from the back of the store to the front sidewalk and then back again. He would go “find” something else to do when he heard anyone mention flooring. That’s my Dad; work smarter, not harder.
We laughed at silly things and I kidded him about wanting his comb, so he could pretty himself up for the nurses. But he had eyes for only one person. Mom.
Mom, his favorite subject. He kept coming back to her. He told me that there was a beautiful nurse on the floor, but that she had nothing on Mom. Even when he was all woozy and waking up from one of the tests he went through, his first thoughts were of her. He wanted to go home because he, “missed his girl.”
On the Friday of his week in the hospital, he finally fell to sleep after Mom and my sister Calico Nell arrived. I guess he felt comfortable with Mom there. I visited with Mom and CN for a bit and then left, giving Dad’s toe a little squeeze as to not wake him, but to let him know I was going. I whispered love and that I really enjoyed talking to him about everything and that I would see him later.
CN told me the next day that Dad was upset that he didn’t get to say goodbye. I thought about calling, but she told me that Mom was visiting on her own for the first time. The weather had been so dicey the rest of the week, CN was driving her in to visit. I didn’t want to disturb their time together. Let him have those moments with ‘his girl’. I’m glad I made that decision. I had my time.
Dad died that night. Massive heart failure due to previously unknown, plaque filled arteries. He died of a broken heart and ours broke in the process.
I’ve had my head stuck in word puzzles ever since. Two months, now. Concentration on anything else hurts too much. Between bereavement, foot ailments and my own discovered hypertension, work has been a struggle. Our house, while coming along is still in flux. Schoolwork sits untouched, unread, unfinished, unwritten. But damn it, I have conquered the Dell no-clue, codeword puzzle. In ink.
Each book I finish stands in a stack, another legion of trophies to mark the passing of dark places. I am not sure how high the stack will have to be before most of the darkness fades, but for now it’s great for waiting.
I love you Dad.