March 11, 2012
It’s one of those random memories that sticks in my mind despite its mundane nature. It’s 1973 or 1974. I can’t be more specific because I know that it occurred during My Great Depression, that 30 month period between the fall of 1972 and the spring of 1975 when I lived through what I can now recognize as a period of clinical depression. I wasn’t keeping a journal then, and the months run together, differentiated only by knowing that it was around Christmas when one thing with one person happened, summer in Vermont when something else with someone else took place. This memory comes from around this time, the turning of winter into spring.
In the memory I am sitting on the left side of the auditorium of the school where I taught, about two-thirds of the way down. I am sitting with my homeroom students at an assembly. The house is dark, and the stage illuminates a singer/songwriter/poet, a man with a guitar who sits on a stool to perform. I can see him so clearly that I know he looks like actor Donal Logue. He’s reciting a poem, the theme or title of which is “Opening My Christmas Cards in a Phone Booth in July.” As I recall the narrative, the Christmas cards were addressed to him jointly with his wife, who had left him not long before the holiday greetings started to arrive. Most would have come from people, most significantly other couples, who would not know of the change in circumstances. He has been unable to muster the emotional energy to open them and read them for seven months, but he’s done it now and he is calling the absent wife to tell her some of the news about friends that she perhaps will want to know. Or maybe he’s calling the senders, to thank them for remembering him. That part of the memory is fuzzy.
I bring up this memory now because downstairs, in my kitchen, is a stack of unopened birthday cards. On my hard drive here in my study, in my email reader, are several unopened items that I know from the subject lines are birthday greetings, most of them from people on a discussion list that I no longer read or contribute to, but to which I still belong, so that my birthday gets noted by the list administrator. And there are more than 100 unacknowledged (except in a general way) birthday greetings from Facebook friends that rolled in last week, most of them on Friday, March 9, my actual birthday.
I can’t say precisely why I haven’t opened the cards. One of them is from an old friend, someone I’ve known for fifty years, whose birthday in January I did not exactly ignore, but nevertheless did not acknowledge until one month later. (And I take some pride in saying that it was with an actual handwritten note and not a cheesy “Sorry I missed your birthday” commercial excuse card.) Another is from a woman whose frail health has kept her from attending our Thursday morning women’s spiritual study group for more than a year. She was on my list of people to write to during the Month of Letters project that I undertook in February, but her slot was after the date, February 8, I think, beyond which the illness unto despair that I was mired in caused me to drop my efforts in that.
I have made reference in recent posts (the not-very-many recent posts here for 2012) to this “siege,” to “the blahs beginning to lift.” That was hopeful, wishful thinking. The Monster Mutating Virus that took hold just before the new year brought with it bacterial infections and the compromises in mood and cognitive function that the medications intended to treat symptoms bring on. Ten days before I was to leave for AWP 2012 in Chicago, I didn’t think I could do it. By February 29, though, I did do it, spent a stimulating but intellectually exhausting four days going to readings and panels, and arrived home not reinfected (there were 10,000 people there, and many of my friends now report that they are sick), but ready to reboot 2012.
The weather has changed, the light has changed. I have lesson plans set for myself for the coming week, including playing with that remembered narrative, reimagining it with a character who, like me, hasn’t opened her birthday cards yet. And I promise to do that before July.
Thank you for reading, so much, so often.