Birthday Visitor

March 9, 2003

When I sat down to compose this piece I went through the usual routine. I opened the index page, the 2003 cover page, and the last piece I wrote. I put in the title and URLs for the new piece on the index pages, and then turned to the piece about the blizzard to make the changes. I read through it first. I noticed that there was a typo that hadn’t been fixed, and when I got to the end, well, it seemed that the piece didn’t end, it just stopped.

It’s entirely possible that I never did finish that piece dated February 17, never uploaded it, never sent a message to the loyal readers on my notify list. (I’ll know the answer to that when I check the directory on my host’s server.) That that possibillity even exists confirms for me what I have been denying for three weeks. Melanie’s back.

I first wrote about Melanie in November 2000. I described her as the embodiment of the apparently seasonal depression that visits me from time to time. Often she comes in November, when the “certain slant of light” that Emily Dickinson named is beginning to steepen. Some years she doesn’t come at all. Back in December, when I was enjoying every single minute of my holiday preparations, I wrote in my paper journal that I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be depressed. I knew that it was more than likely that some kind of post-holiday let down would hit me, and I even wrote that since I was enjoying every single aspect of my life, I might even enjoy (sort of) a brief visit from Melanie, because I would know it was temporary and I would be able to indulge her with herbal tea and shortbread cookies and afternoon naps. God forbid I should ever say that again.

And then I went to Kirkridge and Wernersville, and then I got involved in Les Miserables, and I started writing a lot again, and I forged ahead through those mid-winter weeks with almost the same high energy I’d had pre-Christmas. When I started to feel not myself, I kept pushing the feelings aside. I described the depression like the smoke from a hotel fire that races down a hallway and tries to squeeze under your door. You can’t escape through the window. It won’t open, and even if it did, you can’t jump because the fall will kill you. So you stuff wet towels against the bottom of the door, and hold your breath.

Today is my birthday, and the best gift I gave myself today was an acknowledgement that I am depressed. Melanie’s back, in her black dress, her long hair a bit wild, her eyes ablaze with anger that I have kept her waiting in the hallway. Unholy ghost, Jane Kenyon called her depression. Coarse, mean, you’ll put your feet/ on the coffee table…/ There is nothing I can do/ against your coming.

I spent the afternoon listening to soothing music, breathing, reading old journals, and considering questions designed to help me chart the course for this new season in my life. And I was given the grace just to love the questions without having to write down the answers, the grace to go gentle into my fifty-seventh year.