What no one ever talks about in regards to depression is the upsides. For one thing, a solid bout of depression (by that I mean one that lasts for more than a day or two) really allows you to catch up on your sleep. Sometimes I wonder if it’s like the down side of being bi-polar, but I don’t really know. In other words, I wonder if depression is like getting the downs with the subsequent highs.
I’ve had sleep problems ever since my father’s second divorce, when I went to live with my then-boyfriend’s grandparents so I could finish high school. Actually, the sleeping trouble started before then, though it was motivated by the same bout of chaos. What happened was that my father was either losing his mind again, or simply unable to cope with my stepmother’s increasingly serious threats of ejection and displacement for both he and I. As a result, one Saturday morning he woke me up early and insisted that I drive him to a hospital. It was not a happy journey. At one point, he misdirected me down a one way street. When I noted with real fear that traffic was speeding toward us, he said, “Who cares? We’d be better off dead, anyway.”
So that happened.
After his disappearance, my stepmother increased the intensity of her tirades. I spent as much time away from the house as possible, sneaking in late through the dank, cavernous basement and either sleeping on the chalk and sweat-scented mats of the specially designated wrestling room, or tiptoeing upstairs into what would soon no longer be my bedroom. I knew what was coming, but had no idea what to do about it. I was a month past my 17th birthday.
On one occasion during the week or two I remained in her house without my father, she called the police to force me out. They refused, citing my youth and the fact that legally she was responsible for me. This displeased her. My older boyfriend chimed in to complain about her behavior, but the cops shut him down with the fact that I was underage and he shouldn’t have been involved with me, anyway. The stepmother tried to garner support from her daughter, whom I loved. To her credit, my step-sister walked away, saying, “Leave me out of it.”
Thereafter, accepting that she had no legal basis for throwing me out, the stepmother simply amplified her nastiness. She changed the locks, which meant that I had to ring the doorbell to gain admittance. When and if she answered, I raced past her, up the curved, yellow-carpeted stairs to my room, dragging the heaviest chair I had behind me once I was inside, so that if she followed me to scream obscenities and insults, at least she had to do so from the distance of the hall. I could lock myself in the bathroom and run the shower and the fan simultaneously to drown her out, only occasionally hearing fragments of her phrases: “little slut!” and “piece of shit!” If no one answered, I was either homeless until she herself decided to leave the house, in which case I could dart in while the electric garage door slowly rose (having lurked across the street in the woods, watching for just this opportunity), or I could climb the successive levels of the roof, starting from the unused dog run on the side of the house, rising first to the garage, and from there, hauling myself up to the wraparound porch, and thence to the sliding balcony door of my bedroom. This worked for a day or two, before she began locking all the doors of every room leading to the balcony.
Naturally, the few hours I did spend inside her house were not restful. Previously a world-class teenage sleeper of 11-14 hour blocks of oblivion, I now found that I floated at the edge of unconsciousness, instead of tumbling in deeply. Every other hour or so, I awoke with a stomach-ache, or a sense of panic: was she in the room? Was I safe? Whenever I could, I slept at friends’ houses; I slept at my brother’s friend’s houses. Or rather, I took temporary refuge in such places at night, knowing that sooner or later, I’d have to go back. My stuff was there. My life had been there.
During these weeks — and I really don’t know how many there were, since I was in such a state of anxiety during every hour that passed —my father, who remained in the hospital, refused to maintain the precedent of abandonment he’d begun, and continually called around looking for me. He called my boyfriend, he called my best friend, he called my boyfriend’s best friend. He woke my best friend’s moody stepfather, prompting a scolding by her mother, which in turn, led to an argument between my friend and her mother, both of whom I loved. All I could do was apologize and cry, and when that failed, take myself outside and sit on a lawn chair, exhausted, staring up at the stars and the bright, silent sky. It was August, and very hot.
Finally it all came to a head when the stepmother fell back upon the cloth from which she was cut, bringing in her even more terrible parents as reinforcements. Small, wiry, and white haired, they unleashed their fury, continually screaming and raging that I had to get out. When I slammed my bedroom door to silence them, they yelled that I had no right to slam their daughter’s doors. When I frantically began throwing my things into paper grocery bags to escape them, they stood in the doorway, harrying the friends I’d begged for help. Days had passed since I’d slept more than three hours at a time, and I felt dizzy and sick as I filled bag after bag with everything I owned. My friends shouted back at the stepmother’s mother, a harridan in a silver-blue pageboy wig, who reacted with disbelief that a teenager dared to address her as the bitch she was. “How….dare….you,” she hissed, narrowing her milky blue eyes.
“Fuck you,” my friend answered. “Fuck off.”
There was much that I left behind: books, a winter coat, snow boots, my collection of trolls and albums I loved. And yet, there was something I took with me: a new habit of insomnia, and a lifelong sentence of dreaming and re-dreaming about those terrible weeks when I’d first turned seventeen.