Here’s one of the things about depression. I don’t–unlike some people we know–get suicidal thoughts. Not according to my therapist, anyway. What I do get are one step over from that, which is big picture thoughts like… what is the meaning of life anyway?
Like, why are we here? How does anything I do make any difference to the universe? What’s the point of human beings and everything they do? Families, relationships, art, music, jobs, money… it all seems meaningless.
I guess it’s a short jump from there to wanting to erase yourself, but it’s not a jump I usually make, I guess. Usually.
The water tower was a little bit of erasure, I guess. The whole thinking I could hide until everyone just went away without me… crazy, right? Like me disappearing wasn’t going to matter to everyone and set off a massive manhunt. My therapist and I had talked about it a bunch. No question I hadn’t been in my right mind, but I had wanted to escape, not die. And I’d convinced myself it would be okay to disappear–that it made sense to disappear–just because that’s how badly I needed to get away. What I did was crazy, but I was doing it to preserve my sanity.
I know Ziggy blames Claire for the sudden move, and that blaming her was a quick fix on the rift between him and me, but there were moments when I was standing in the trees alone, trying to find my center, trying to figure out where depression ended and Daron began, when I kind of thought maybe I did do it on purpose. Maybe I was trying to do something to save myself. Or my soul.
Or maybe I was just running away.
One day I left Ziggy meditating on the rock by the water and walked back to the bungalow myself. Flip and Chief had taken the RV for a tune-up and I walked around the little house in the scrub grass to look for my frog friend. The front window was open.
I could hear Claire crying. She was sitting at the portable piano. I found myself pressed against the side of the house next to the window so she couldn’t see me. The sniffling slowed down and I heard her breathe like she was getting herself together. And then she played a couple of chords and tried to sing. Her voice cracked on the very first note and she burst out sobbing like… well, like a woman who’s lost something and is grieving over it.
After that we both avoided the vicinity of the keyboard. Flip didn’t seem to notice that and left it where it was.
That night, after Chief grilled a couple of pounds of chicken legs and we sat around eating them with cole slaw, Claire took a Snack-Pak chocolate pudding out of the fridge and stood there eating it solemnly with a spoon. She cleared her throat delicately.
“You need something, Miz Silver?” Flip asked, as he was setting up the bong.
“I do wish that dairy, chocolate, and smoke were not so very rough,”–she said the word almost like a cough– “on my throat.”
I had a sudden flashback to how Roger refused to drink Yoo-Hoo. He acted like it would be worse than Drain-O for his singing voice.
Come to think of it, what was probably wrecking Claire’s voice wasn’t smoking and eating chocolate, it was all the puking. But I knew better than to say that.
Flip stood up though, one of those expressions on his face like he just had a flash of inspiration. “Well, this won’t cut down the chocolate, but have you tried hash brownies?”
Oh, of course. Calories and pot all in one. Why didn’t we think of this before?
Next thing you know, Chief and Flip and Claire are all making a batch of brownies from scratch. They didn’t have a recipe so they were kind of making it up as they went along. Ziggy and I sat on the back porch where we could listen to the debate but where we were out of the way and not required to weigh in.
“Remember the time I ate a pot brownie at Bart’s on July 4th?” I said. “Wait, were you there?”
“No, dear one,” Ziggy said, hiding an amused smile. “I was not there.”
“But you heard about it.”
I hugged my knees and looked at the dark forest. Somewhere off to the left I heard our neighbor’s dog bark a couple of times. “I think I should go back to substance-free for a while.”
“I kind of thought you might.”
“I mean, I only started again because it was Christmas. And I guess to prove that I could.” A little tremor ran through my hand, a ghost of the spasm I used to feel. “It’s weird to be wound up and depressed at the same time. It’s like I care too much and not enough simultaneously.”
Ziggy leaned against me, his back against the side of the house and his shoulder touching mine. “That sounds about right. That’s how depression is sometimes. And anxiety.”
“You want to hear a theory?”
His head tucked on top of my shoulder. “I was talking with my therapist about keeping secrets. About how, you know, I’m working on being honest with you about everything all the time, being proactive about it, but how I still like to keep secrets. Not from you, I mean, in general. And she was asking me about that and I was saying it’s just something I’ve always done. I’ve always had something going on that was fun to hide. Or important to. She had a couple of theories about that.”
“About why it was important?”
“About why I do it. I mean, sure, there’s the adrenaline junkie part built around the thrill of being caught. Of the secret being revealed or almost revealed. But at a deeper level she thought, maybe, I controlled my anxiety by channeling it. Like I could take all my free-floating anxiety and put it all into this one symbolic thing that I could control, and if I could control it and keep whatever it was secret, I was essentially keeping my anxiety in check.”
“Did I know you have anxiety? Or is this new?”
“It might be a bit new,” he admitted. “To you, anyway. Anyway. So as long as I have a secret to focus my mind on, I keep my anxiety tamped down. It’s a way of exerting control over it.”
“Huh. Does that mean… all those years I was in the closet I was actually just keeping my anxiety in check?”
He chuckled. “I don’t think so, dear one. Not in this sense, anyway. You were, and maybe still are, genuinely afraid of people finding out.”
“Yeah, true.” I reduced my anxiety by telling people, not by continuing to hide it. “I feel like I have all this free floating caustic anxiety now, though, worse than I used to. And I don’t want to medicate it with alcohol or drugs because that’s exactly how I ended up in that water tower. So how do I deal with it?”
He straightened his legs out. He was wearing artfully torn jeans and high-top sneakers of mismatched colors: one red, one purple. “You could try meditation.”
“Does it work?”
He let a breath out slowly. “Some kinds work better than others. I’m not so good at the kind where you just sit still and empty your mind.”
I was about to ask him what kind he was good at when he said, “You want to hear another theory?”
He swallowed. “I think music is your meditation. I think for years and years that’s how you calmed your mind. You picked up a guitar and your mind just went whoosh.”
When he said that, in fact, my mind went whoosh. Like I’d eaten a pot brownie. Like a priest had just blown my mind. Like everything just became obvious that I’d been staring at forever, but now it clicked. I got goosebumps. I felt almost like I was going to sneeze. Or cry. Like I’d taken a breath but forgot how to let it go.
“When you improvise, when you go into the zone, and when you do things that are repetitious, like playing scales, or songs you know so well–”
“Or a vocal warmup–”
“Yeah, that, too.” He sniffed like maybe his nose was a little runny, sitting out here in the cold and chill. It had been warm again during the daytime but it still was getting down into the forties each night. “And that’s one of the classic meditation styles, after all. Take a deep breath and then let out one long Om. Or chant like a hare krishna. Or–”
“Yeah.” Somehow, before that moment, I hadn’t connected that psychological stuff and spiritual stuff were the same. It’s the same pain in your soul. Whether you talk to a shrink or to a priest about it. Whether you take an antidepressant or you drop acid and discover there is peace at the center of your heart, if you can only remember that when you come down. When you wake up from a dream.
How had I missed that music is the gateway to spiritual connection for so many humans? It’s the trigger. It’s the method. Whether you chant like a hare krishna or a gregorian monk. Or any of a thousand other spiritual practices that have a drum or a voice or a song at their center.
I’d never thought of what I did as sacred before. Music was just… something I did because it was part of who I was. Because I had talent and then I had something to do that wasn’t school or sports. And it had become my way to escape New Jersey and my way to grow up. And then my job, my industry, my world.
I looked at the scar on my palm. My stigmata, as Ziggy called it. When I put myself in that water tank was because of how I’d alienated myself not just from the people around me but from my own self. I’d felt cut off and distant from my talent, from my ability, from music and its purpose. I’d been forcing myself through the motions on Star*Gaze. I’d forced myself through the motions on the tour. I was doing damage.
In Boston I was supposedly healing. Jumping in to my exercises like a good little boy. Voice. Fingers. Hand. etc. Rehabilitating. But I was still going through the motions–literally. Telling myself it was helping. But if it really had been helping, hearing Nirvana for the first time (what a name! the universe is really fucking with me!) wouldn’t have knocked me for such a loop.
Yeah, the big questions are what loom over me when I’m depressed. Why are we here, what’s the meaning of life, and what’s the point of it all? But music, music is both big and small. Music is physics and psychology and evolution and biology and culture and being human. Which came first, the singer or the song? The answer is yes.
“Did you accidentally inhale some hash oil? You’re being quiet to the point of catatonic.”
My hand squeezed his thigh. If this was what my brain had been trying to learn, well, consider it learned. I had to swallow before I could make my throat work enough to speak, though.
When I did, I said: “Take me back to New York.”