A memory I often revisit is in when I was a child, living in New Westminster, British Columbia. This suburb is entirely built on a hill, sloping down towards the Fraser River. My family lived on what was near the bottom, a short distance away from the river, although numerous factories and other industries blocked our view.
My elementary school was located some distance away, practically straight up the hill. I walked every day, up the hill in the morning, down the hill in the late afternoon. The weather in British Columbia was always either sunny, or raining. Only very rarely it snowed. I was never prepared for any eventuality regardless.
During those times of the year when it snowed, the mild weather always ensured that the snow melted quickly during the day. During the night. all that water froze. Frozen water is also called Ice in many countries. It is however, largely unknown in New Westminster.
I hated those mornings, staring at the steep, seemingly endless ice-sheathed slope I was forced to ascend. I knew how difficult it was going to be, I dreaded it actually. But every day, I walked up that hill.
Cautiously, ever so cautiously, I would plant one foot, then brace it as I prepared to move the other. Such determination would have been unusual to observe in one so young had any been watching. Plodding focus brought me up that hill, 2 meters, then 10. Then it happened, as it always happened.
The sidewalk seemed to grow weary of my feeble attempts and of it’s own volition would shift, pushing me back down the hill. I had done nothing wrong! My feet were planted, my pace steady. I had taken no unnessary risks. Yet the bottom beckoned.
Spreading my feet wide in an attempt to maintain my balance, I watched helplessly as the progress I made fell away. As I came to a stop, I realized that I had still some progress. I didn’t have a backpack then, just a paperbag containing my lunch, a bologna sandwich with mustard on one side and buttered on the other, and a small collection of worn pencils stuffed in one of my jean jacket pockets. I moved the lunchbag into my other hand, hoping it will help with my balance.
I resumed my climb.
I have no true recollection of the number of times I walked up that icy hill on those ‘winter’ mornings. No recollection of the munber of times I fell and hurt myself, freezing my hands as they pushed against the frozen sidewalk. Forward progress marked by frequent backward progress. Dogged determination took me to school, every day.
I tried so many other ways to get to school. Different roads, different paths. I always started off at the bottom of a hill, there was no way to avoid that particular fact. I never once considered asking my dear old dad for a ride however. That way was madness.
I am much older now, looking back on those times, that younger self that stopped at the bottom of the hill every morning and looked up at the climb ahead. It was then, and still is now, the perfect metaphor for my life. Progress marked by setback after setback.
It is also a exemplary example of my work to combat depression.
It is the Hill upon which I walk.
It is the Slide that pushes me down.
It is my determination that brings me up and over that hill.
Fatigue can be overwhelming. There is so many things happening right now that one can feel like they are drowning.
My work right now is difficult. Time consuming. Draining.
We are also in the middle of a pandemic sweeping the globe. Thousands have died, while millions simply refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. My city has hundreds of new cases reported daily.
Peaceful protests and violent riots are the occurring on a daily basis. Injustice is being faced an called out. The people are tired.
I am tired.
How can one live in this world? How can I live in this world? Can any of us?
I turned 46 years old.
I have seen many things. I have experienced many things. I understand so little of the universe. I fear I never will.
Fear is a constant companion. I suffer from depression and anxiety. I fear.
But I got forth day after day into the world. I face my fear. I work and surprisingly, I enjoy my work
I step out every day knowing that this day, I could be infected. Or this day, I could be racially discriminated against because of my ethnicity. I could be assaulted during my shift, it is a frighteningly common occurrence in my line of work.
I act, in spite of myself. I achieve, in spite of myself. I am loved, in spite of myself.
He rolled over in bed as the alarm went off for the tenth time.
“I am going to die,” he thought to himself.
He thought that thought every time he woke up. At this point in his life, it was almost reassuring. Still, he dragged himself out of bed and got in the shower.
The day awaited.
The city was empty. Almost empty. A sharp wind swept through the downtown core, forcing him to pull his jacket close against it. The sun was bright and intense, yet when he stepped into shadow, the temperature dropped instantly.
The change in the world was most noticable in the core. Buildings were mostly deserted, manned by the slimmest of work crews and security. The bus drivers of the public transit system were the most obvious, in their matching uniforms. They gathered were they could, singly, in pairs or less frequently, in larger groups. They were extremely noticable, like a cult perhaps. They always acknowledged each other with a nod or a word.
They were required to be in the downtown core but there was nowhere for them to BE in there.
He coughed suddenly. That old worrying cough. It had nothing to do with the current crisis sweeping the land, but he cast a furtive glance around to see if anyone noticed. An approaching elderly man caught his eye, then the old man intentionally adjusted his face mask in response and provided extra space to separate them.
A sensible precaution, he thought, as the old man wandered by.
He was sick, it was true. It had nothing to do with the global pandemic sweeping the world however. The cough was likely from growing up in the house of a chain smoker. His was a mental illness, a disease of the mind, of the soul. It would take his life as sure as any cancer though, if he was not careful.
The social restrictions in place were meant to keep the disease from spreading, to limit it’s spread and keep it to a manageable level. That meant keeping people at a distance. Staying away from them. He had no problem with this. This was his normal. Reaching out was always the hardest part for him, and now he couldn’t do that.
He was drowning inside himself.
He looked up at the sky, squinting against the hard glare of the sun. The universe spread out before him, a hard and indifferent place, vast and unknowable. He was insignificant, he knew that, accepted that. A mote contemplating infinity. Strangely enough, this thought brought him peace.
Wars erupted continually across the planet. Civil unrest grew here and abroad. Illnesses swept through the world. He would survive these, or he wouldn’t. He understood that his actions didn’t matter in the long run. He could still get sick, or shot, or jailed.
So, he wore a mask. He washed and sanitized his hands regularly and maintained as much social distance as was required. He also kept his mind open to the racial unrest that was happening out there. He listened, and tried to understand.
He was hopeful, at the end of the day. The world would get better. It would survive this. Or it wouldn’t.
The next morning, he woke up and thought to himself,
I hope this letter finds you well. I am doing well here in Calgary. My wife sends her regards. I find myself ill at ease of late. Mayhaps a visit from you would be a balm for my soul.
Who writes like that anymore? Well, you probably did. With pen and paper. Probably an ink well. Learning cursive and whatnot. I can clearly imagine you at a table, writing a letter to your brother or sisters, telling them about your experiences. I don’t ever recall seeing you write anything at any time however.
Who even writes letters anymore?
Now, through the technological magic of the digital age, we can do this:
85 years is a delightful milestone! You’ve seen so much history: you witnessed a World War, you gained the right to vote in 1960 or thereabouts, you saw the ending of the Residential school system of which you were a part of. You saw so much.
I wish you were here. Writing is so impersonal. Perhaps that why I do so much of it. Disassociating the self from the emotion. It’s easy to write of disturbing things. After all, it’s just part of the story right?
But no, you’re not here. You’re not anywhere. You passed away some 3 years ago.
Passed away. A nice way of saying you died. Deceased. Pining for the fjords.
Sigh. I can’t stop cracking jokes, even in the face of death. I must have gotten that from you.
Dammit, I miss you.
I am writing this letter to you as a means of therapy. Of maintaining the relationship I had with you prior to your exit. Connecting with people has been difficult since you left.
I mean, I understand that everything ends. Our time here is limited. Our very breath, once spent is never recovered. So why can’t I let you go? Why can’t I move on?
I digress. Pointless musings on the nature of death. We have had millenia to consider it and no answer is better then the other.
We die. We are done. The End.
Argh, more digressions.
I am doing this to update you, to keep you in the know of what is happening to me, your son. One of many of your offspring. But also, the last of your children.
So, where was I? The past year, right. It was a doozy.
Around christmas 2018, it hit me hard. Depression. Harder then it has ever been. I almost didn’t recover.
I’ve been dealing with depression most of my life. Almost all of it, it seems. It hounds me, creeping around my every thought. You must have seen me as I struggled with it in my youth. You had a lot on your plate back then.
I used to always visit you at christmas, either at home, or the senior care facility later. We would open gifts and share a meal, sometimes with tea or coffee. You always liked tea over coffee. I am kind of addicted to coffee.
But you weren’t there that year. And it hurt. The year before, christmas went by in a daze, I can barely recall it. The newness of your absence must have masked it.
So yes, depression called, and I answered.
I couldn’t sleep. I was overeating. I started having panic attacks. My heart would race, I couldn’t keep a thought in my head except to run. Just, run. A blind, mamillian response to stress.
I couldn’t work like that. I had to go on long term disability. The cut to my paycheque hurt even worse. But work had good programs in place to assist.
So I got help.
Cognitive Behaviour therapy. Very wordy, but it has been incredibly helpful to me. Medication helped as well. It is a wonder how changing how you look at things can change so much. I was so close mom, it frightened me.
Part of my healing has been to write. My teachers all said that I had talent, but I never had the belief in myself to take them seriously. But I am now. I think you would be proud.
I wrote a novel!
I want to be published. To make a name for myself. Recognition. I am afraid, but exhilarated at the same time about that.
I look to your strength for inspiration in this. You endured so much to bring us all, your children here. So much of it must have been abject misery, but you did it.
My cat, Wesley, has been a constant companion. You met him once. I think he liked you.
I have had the extreme fortune of meeting several strong women like you in my travels. I always mention you to them. They are suitably impressed by you.
So, it is your birthday, and I am writing this letter to you. I should burn it, it would be cathartic, possibly. I just need you to understand how things are, how I am doing.
I am better now. This last christmas, I thought of you, and was happy. You would have enjoyed it, you always do.
I should wrap this up. It is late, and I am tired. Writing is easy but at the same time, draining, if that makes sense. I want to continue this conversation with you though.
My wife says Hi! and Happy Birthday!
You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten. I will continue to speak of you to any who will listen. They will remember you.
As I write, there is a special location here at my writing nook. It is a rectangular space between the keyboard and the end of of the table. Here sits a fuzzy, comfy blanket. It is covered in cat hair. It is the home and throne of Wesley, my cat.
Or rather, I am his human.
-Here he is, cleverly subverting the “No Cats on the Counter” rule.
When he came into my life, Wesley, or Bandit as he was known then, had a rough childhood. He was found abandoned with his littermates, all freshly born, left in a box over night outside of a animal care facility in the middle of winter. The winter was punishingly cold, and only he survived out of all his siblings.
The next few weeks were touch and go, as he had to be fed by bottle, without a cat mother to take care of him. He was very sickly, falling prey to many illnesses. Eventually, a brave foster mom stepped in to take care of him, taking him home with her.
Bandit stayed with her for some time, growing stronger and recovering. The foster mom did her best to make sure he was healthy and loved. In time however, she had to let him go. She had a medical condition that made it difficult for her to take care of him, so reluctantly, she had to find him another foster parent.
My wife had made his acquaintance and felt that we could handle him until he was adopted. I can clearly remember the day he arrived, his foster mom was busy giving my wife his medicines and food and one or two of his favorite toys and other information about his needs. I was standing in the kitchen drinking a coffee when he cautiously peered from around the corner. He was so small.
I heard the foster mom warn us that he was afraid of men.
We stared at each other for a moment.
That warning suddenly seemed unimportant.
We became inseparable. He followed me wherever I went. He would jump, often at the most unexpected moments straight up and into my arms. At night, he would sit on the bed with us and just wait, wait for one of us to crack an eye open at him. Then he would pounce. More then a few times, the giggling of one of us would wake the other.
Then, one day, his old foster mom called. She had recently been given new medication and wanted to adopt Bandit. She had fallen in love with him. I don’t blame her, it was a very easy thing to do.
When she came back for him, he was sitting upstairs with me on my bed. He was holding me and I was holding him. We do that sometimes. His foster mom was so excited. I was becoming increasingly sad. I looked at him for a while, then I said very quietly, so quietly that only he could hear, “I love you.”
He gently placed his paw on my face.
I picked him up and took him downstairs, and she left with him.
I was depressed for a long while after that.
Some time later, I had finally come to terms with his absence. I could now freely walk around the house without being jumped on at random. I no longer heard his querying chirp whenever he saw me after a long period of time. I was resigned.
His adopted mom phoned us. Her medication was not working. Crying, she told us that she had to return Bandit to us. She loved him, but she had to let him go. As I once did.
Bandit returned to us and he immediately leapt into my arms. His mother said a tearful goodbye and left. The house was quiet for a moment. It was just he and I, it seemed.
I turned to my wife and said, “I can’t let him go again.” There was a tear in my eye.
She smiled, and said, “I kind of thought so.”
We adopted Bandit shortly thereafter. Wesley became his new name. It suited him more, it felt.
We are rarely apart. Even as I write. he rests between me and my keyboard. Sometimes, he grooms himself, sometimes he sleeps, offtimes, he watches me as I write.
I promised him, my cat, my friend, a lifetime of love. A lifetime of peace. A lifetime of adventure.
I stood outside the door, full of uncertainty and dread.
My heart caught for a long moment as I raised my hand and gently knocked.
What would be on the other side? My mind conjured images of Demons and Terror. Of images long forgotten. A slavering, ravenous beast stood behind the door, and waited for me to enter.
An aura of fear radiated from the door. Or perhaps just from me. I hoped that no one had heard my knocking.
A questioning grunt echoed from the other side of the door. A shambling lurch could be heard, increasing in volume. With a sickening noise, the lock clicked and the doorknob rattled. A garbled voice rumbled threateningly, “Come in.”
I looked back and forth down the empty hallway of this old, dilapitated apartment complex. The dim hallway light showed that no one was around to witness my entrance. No one would notice if I ever left.
I swallowed a rising lump in my throat and placed a hand on the doorknob. Fear pressed against me. A physical thing, fear can be sometimes. I wanted to run, to leave this place, and never return.
Instead, I opened the door and stepped inside.
The apartment was small and full of dark omens. The air was thick and stuffy. The temperature was stiflingly hot. A pressure wave hit me as soon as I closed the door. I wondered who could live in a place such as this?
The question was rhetorical. I knew exactly who lived here. The god-damned Devil.
The devil was my father.
He had just shuffled his way back to his chair, uncaring if I actually entered or not. His clothes were tattered and threadbare. He walked with a bit of a limp, which he corrected with a cane. Daring to raise my eyes toward him, I can almost see something about him, something I haven’t seen before. With a long groan, he sits back down on his chair, in front of the television set that always seems to be on.
Endless commercials drone on from the screen. Every time I come over. Always commercials.
I take off my shoes and leave them by the door. Then I move over and stand beside him, careful not to get in his line of sight. I do this every time I see him here.
I clear my throat in an attempt to force the words out. I have to speak to him and yet, I dread nothing more than his gaze upon my face. My words are mumbled, stammering.
“Uh, I was at the hospital today…uh…”
“WHAT?” His voice, sharp, cuts me to the core. I have his attention now.
Those terrible eyes focus on me.
“I, uh…”, I manage.
“I saw mom today.”
“OH.” His attention shifts back to the screen. The drone of the television set filling in the empty spaces of our conversation.
“Uh, yes. She was doing good. Yes, good.” I have a hard time stringing sentences together when I’m near him. His presence overwhelms me.
“So, yeah, she said something funny. It really cracked up my girlfriend.” I’m trying to connect, but I don’t know how, or if I’m doing it right.
“YOUR GIRLFRIEND WAS THERE?” He leans back in his chair. I go on full alert. Why would he ask that?
“I DON’T WANT HER TO SEE YOUR MOTHER ANYMORE.” He nods to himself. He leans forward again, the matter already forgotten.
I reel in stunned confusion. Was that a command? A demand? An order?
“Yes. Of course,” I weakly submit.
I’m disgusted with myself.
“I’VE TALKED WITH THE DOCTOR”, he continues. “MOM WILL BE HOME BY THE END OF THE WEEK.” Something resembling a smile crosses his face.
What? No! She can’t!
She will die here!
She almost died here! I had to call for paramedics to take her away to the hospital because you couldn’t take care of her and you absolutely would not allow anyone else to take care of her either!
These were the things I wanted to say. But instead, I said nothing.
With a lurch, he stands up and slowly makes his way into the kitchen. He pulls open a cupboard and retrieves a glass. Then he opens the refrigerator and pours himself a glass of juice.
I meekly follow.
The implications of his words hammer into me like a series of blows. If my mother returns here, she will die soon after. My heart starts to pound, my hands begin to shake. Panic takes hold.
My head drops in defeat. The finality of his command still echoes in my mind. I am prepared to accept it, as I have so many others.
But I can’t.
I ball my fists, clenching them so tightly that they go numb. I’m shaking. I want to run so badly. I keep looking at the door, hoping for someone to enter and save me. All I can feel is His prescence, this titan who stands before me and in whose prescence I can do nothing. The Fear has me.
But this is about my Mother.
“she’s…She’s not coming back here,” I say quietly. The purpose of my visit, the topic I’ve been trying to avoid bringing up, finally surfaces. He looks at me in suprise.
I release the breath that I was unaware that I was holding in.
“Today, I filled out the paperwork for Guardianship and Trusteeship of mom.”
The look of suprise switches to anger. He calmly puts his glass down on the counter and adjusts his grip on his cane. His eyes never leave me.
“I talked to her doctor,” I continue, “and the hospital staff. They all agree that she shouldn’t return home. That she should stay at the hospital and move to a long term care facility.”
“SHE BELONGS WITH ME!!!” The force of his words pushes me back. Tears start forming on the corners of my eyes.
“You can’t take care of her anymore,” I reply. It’s taking all of my willpower not to turn and run. “You tried, remember? With the daily visits from the nurses and the food delivery people. You somehow drove them all away. They won’t even come back now.”
He rages against me. It is absolutely terrifying. The very walls seem to shake. When he raises his cane and pulls back, as if to swing, I retreat into my memories.
My tattered, ragged memories.
Every memory of abuse, physical and mental. The futile attempts at hiding from his rage. The endless fear. The memories of his abuses against my mother and siblings. But something else strikes through.
Memories of his drunken ramblings about his childhood. His stories about the abuses he endured as a child. The Residential schools and their lasting effects. His experiences in the army. The friends he lost overseas. The times he wept from the sadness he held inside. His suffering.
I realize in that moment, that he was as lost as me.
The veil drops from my eyes. I can see him now as he really his. Not as a tyrant. Not as a monster that has tormented me for my entire life.
But as a man. A broken, battered man. A man that should have received help for his numerous traumas, but never had. He was likely unaware that help was even available.
He was old. Hollow. Barely standing. Holding himself up through stubborn willpower alone.
I felt sorry for him.
A lot of my fear left then. But not all. I will always carry some with me.
“Mom can live,” I say now with more confidence. “She can live for many more years, and be happy during those. But not here. Not with you.”
My father lowers his arm. The cane slides back to the ground. Perhaps he recognizes the change in me.
“Trained professionals will be around her at all times. She will be cared for. She will be safe.”
“I can’t…I can’t carry this anymore.” I look at him. “The experiences I’ve had with you. The constant fear I live in. I can barely interact with men, especially ones who remind me of you. I have to let it go. I have to heal.”
“I forgive you.”
I head for the door and put my shoes on. There is no other noise in the apartment except for the reassuring stream of television commercials. I put my hand on the door to leave, but something stops me.
“I’m getting help to deal with my trauma.” I turn to him. “It would help you to do the same.”
I don’t know why I said that. Perhaps one final appeal to his sanity. Perhaps a lonely child’s attempt to connect with his father.
The groan of a chair from the living room as he eases himself down. Relative silence for a moment. I already know what he’s going to say.
“NEVER COME BACK HERE.”
It still hurt.
I leave, and pass through the door. I turn and look at the door as it closes. It is no longer imposing.
It is old, and sad. Like so many other things around here. I walk away.
I was writing a story. Chapter by chapter. Week by week. I have been unable to finish my work. I sometimes sit and stare at my unfinished work, mentally punishing myself for my inability to end the story.
The words are there. I cannot make them leave my mind and take their place on page.
I am depressed.
The depression is not the result of my not finishing the story I’ve written.
I suffer from depression. It has been a lifelong condition, it seems. My constant companion.
I grew up in a house filled with abuse. I was abused.
Was is the cause of my depression or would it have occurred regardless? My thoughts spiral along the path of self-doubt: the path that abuse sets before you. The thought pattern that abusers drive into you.
I have spent years fighting the grip of depression. I have sought help from counsellors and doctors. I am on medication. I daily wage a silent war to confront my darkest thoughts and challenge them, striving to change them into positive or at least, neutral thoughts.
After years of therapy and medication, I have come to the conclusion that I will never be rid of my constant companion. At best, AT BEST, I have learned enough techniques to keep the darkness at bay temporarily. Muted, but never eliminated.
Some days, it is a snicker behind my back, on others, a scream that drowns out all other thoughts.
Spending time with my friends helps immeasurably. With them I can laugh, and joke, and for a time, forget. Talking about it helps as well. I spent far too many years internalizing my suffering. Developing the strength to speak of my experiences has been liberating. Even writing these words down here has been helpful.
The wave of depression will break. The writing will continue. I will be myself again.
During my college years, I was a lonely guy. I had no social skills to speak of. At parties my anxiety would spike and I would do anything to avoid social contact with others. I would read any nearby magazines or books. I would even stare intently at plants, anything to fake that I belonged there. Or I would drink, heavily. That never worked out well.
Imagine my surprise when, at a friend’s house party, I met a girl. She was smart, funny and ridiculously attractive. We talked and laughed long into the night.
She called me a week later. We chatted for what seemed like forever. She really seemed to like me. My self-image could barely handle it. I’ve never considered myself an attractive man, but I do have a charm that turns on by itself at random moments. She seemed out of my league, but I went with it.
We arranged for a date downtown. My excitement was through the roof. I threw on my least shabby clothes and made my way to the restaurant.
There she was, waiting on the corner by the restaurant, smiling and radiant. We made our way inside. I was all smiles and charm.
We seated ourselves and looked at the menu. Then it hit me: the Stench. Her perfume was overwhelming, this thick miasma hanging over the table. There was no escaping it.
My reaction was uncontrollable. Coughing, choking and gasping for air, I covered my nose and mouth with a napkin. Her reaction was understandable: anger. I tried to pass it off as a cold I was fighting. She did not buy it and the meal passed quickly and coldly.
We talked a few more times on the phone. Much better for me, scentwise. My charm miraculously returned and she gave me another chance. Coffee this time.
We met outside the coffee shop, so radiant she was. Her perfume punched me squarely in the face. I desperately tried to maintain my composure but I could tell it was already doomed. Perhaps it was because I was dancing around her, trying to stay up wind of her. She looked at me like I was mad.
She politely drank a cup of coffee with me and made idle chit-chat. I was still struggling to breathe in her presence. Then she left and never talked to me again. I remained and drank another coffee and pondered the situation.
Through the sadness of the moment, a smile cut through it all. It was the most Seinfeldian moment of my life. Cue the bass line.
Many years later, I met another woman. Smart, funny and ridiculously attractive. And she doesn’t wear perfume. Plus, she introduced me to the other Love of my life: a cat named Wesley.