I have an ongoing love affair with my most hated phone app. I seem to need to reload Harper’s every month in order to get to my long time subscription. I’m on American time again in America. It’s 37 degrees Fahrenheit which means cold, almost frozen water cold. The man across the street-born in Austria, naturalized to America-has put up one of those air-filled swaying Santas for the local children. The children love it. The neighbor and his father love them for loving it. If you leave out anything else on the street, it is a perfect (published) Norman Rockwell Christmas. But if you look at it from my window, it looks like one of the numerous unpublished Rockwell’s-the ones where all the people aren’t white and formed from the putty of apple pie and the nuclear race.
In American Time, I’ve been reading the hard copy of the January’s Harper’s, where a excerpt from Daphene Merkin’s This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression and quite near it Karen Soli’s poem “The North.” They strike me with the force of what are Soli’s words: “Is Character/inseparable from what one does/to stay alive?” What one does to stay alive is not the same as what one does not to die. Like too many of you, I know now, for now, the difference between the two.
For twenty years, I kept alive in with the most obvious simile: I will die like my mother two months before my forty-fourth birthday. For all of those years plus five, I kept from dying by not walking into the so easy deaths of any life. For today, the easy deaths are hiding themselves from me. I am not naive enough to think those opportunities have left me altogether. There are fewer than five years between me and my mother.
I had wished that with the enclosing time between us, I would find some quiet. The world in my dearest dreams would roll slowly by, a set of driveway moments intended for perfect memory-neither my words nor my experiences cliche but all of it a perfect life. But you have reminded me with each sentence from each mouth that our five future years, the ones my life will take me through, are necessarily full of moments that only in the retelling will create hope. For now my future is one of protest. One in which the protest is out of necessity rather than hope. Never did I think that my lived experience of depression would so clearly prepare me for a lived experience of both being the other and protecting those who are labeled so clearly as such.