16 Shades Of Depression And One Of Them Is You

I am calling you, my friend. Can you hear me?

You have overwhelmed me, Joel. For many days now. You have been banging against your steel door in my heart. So tonight I am yours, once again. Speak to me and take me back to a life I no longer know. I am giving you your voice, the one that has lived inside me, quietly, all these years. I want to hear you. I want to feel you.

I need to remember you.

I was so in love with you. Did you ever know? If you did, did you fully understand what that meant?

So many nights we spent drinking after work…and talking. Talking all night long. Talking until we had grown weary with each other and couldn’t imagine what we would have to say the next time around. But always…always there was a next time.

We would find each other in the middle of a crowded room and, with one look from you, I would know. I could feel your hurt as if it were my own flesh bleeding. I could taste your tears just as surely as if they had fallen from my own eyes and traveled down the hills of my cheeks to land, salty and raw, on the chapped planes of my lips.

It was late at night or early in the morning, depending, the first time you called me. We had just spent the night in a glorious mind-fuck, dissecting our souls and offering, each to the other, little pieces of them – as we often did. “What do I need to do,” you asked. “Do I need to take you out on a date? Do I need to buy you flowers? What, Stephanie? I’m asking you because I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

You didn’t need to do any of those things and I told you so. But two nights later, we met at a bar for drinks and called it a date anyway. In the parking lot, on the way to some party, you grabbed me and kissed me for the first time. It was everything I had ever wanted in my life.

I’m sorry if I never told you that.

Later, at the party, I was sitting on a window ledge on the balcony of a second story apartment. You were kneeling between my parted legs. You looked up at me and asked, in all seriousness, why you felt the need to kiss me all the time. I didn’t have an answer for you. I was too busy hoping you would just do it again and never stop. I looked down at you, speechless, and you looked back up at me….and smiled – one of those rare things you did sometimes.

(That was something we could never figure out, you know. Our attraction to each other. We tried so many times to understand it, remember? It was way past physical. Had gone beyond that realm two seconds after my eyes found yours for the first time and words flew out of your open mouth right into my soul.)

That night ended in fire. Literally. Kenneth and Shannon’s duplex burned to the ground. You looked at me after you took the call and we both knew we had to go. We stood there with our friends while the flames licked the side of the house, the cops took names, and the firemen turned on their houses. Kenneth ran into his burning house at the last minute and returned with a CD that he handed to me. I still have that CD.

We left after the flames were doused. We sat in the car under the lights of your dashboard and you turned to me and said, “Well. That wasn’t exactly the first date I had envisioned but I guess I somehow knew it wouldn’t be that way with you anyway.” And then you turned to me and we kissed as if The War of the Worlds was happening right outside the windows of your car and it was our last moment on earth together. The War of the Worlds could have happened that night. Or any other night I was privileged enough to share space with you. I would have gladly followed you into the dark.

Weeks later, you sat down beside me at the bar. You didn’t speak. You needed to tell me something. I could feel it. You ordered your drink then put your hand on my knee. You looked over at me with those eyes of yours. It was always in your eyes, wasn’t it? At least for me it was. I could read you a mile away. You knew this and you hated it.

You told me about your demons that night.

How they were wrecking you.

You were so ashamed.

And the fucked up thing about it, J, is I already knew. And I loved you anyway. Maybe even because of. Probably in spite of.

Because none of that diminished who you were when we stared at each other across the table, saying nothing and yet everything. Or how you would come to me at night, put your hands on my shoulders, and touch your forehead to mine until the tips of our eyelashes brushed together.

I loved you crazy. Messed up. Perfect.

I didn’t need you to wrap yourself in a neat little box and tie it up with a bow for me. I wanted your broken and beaten, your strength and courage, your flawed perfection.

I wanted every little piece of your puzzle. I did not need for you to assemble it for me. We could do that together.

I loved the black t-shirt you wore to work and the blue bandanna you tied around your head. I loved the glass in your eyes when you had spent the night thinking too hard and too long. I loved the quiet way you called me ‘baby’ so no one else could hear; the way you could walk up behind me and wrap your presence all around me without touching me at all; mornings when you couldn’t speak to me because the night had been too hard; how you brushed the back of your hand against mine so our knuckles were perfectly aligned; the way I could feel you before I even knew you had entered the room; your anger when you would yell at me to get out of your head, and the laughter that would always follow after.

I loved every dirty, ugly, despicable, beautiful, clean, holy, magnificent thing you were.

The drugs were only a part of you and I knew they were not the whole. Just like the darkness in me is not the sum total of my being.

They never disguised you, J. I think you thought they did. I think you thought they were a shield you could hide behind. But they weren’t and you couldn’t. I could still find you. I knew you were in there. And I knew you didn’t want to be lost in there. So you never really were. Did you know that? Do you know that you always kept a piece of yourself so close to you that nothing could ever take it away from you?

It all ended that night in the parking deck, didn’t it? We had been fighting and when you tried to kiss me, I slapped your hands away and grabbed your face instead. I asked you if anyone had ever loved you before, if anyone had ever given a shit about you. We were standing so close I could feel your stomach contracting and expanding with each hard breath you took. You cried, holding on to my hands around your face. You touched your forehead to mine and for a moment, only a moment, stared into my eyes, out of breath. Then, you pushed my hands away and said, “Fuck you, Stephanie. Fuck you for arousing emotions in me that don’t need to be aroused.” You turned from me and walked away. I called your name and you turned, walked back toward me and said, “You’ll be just like all the rest. The minute I show you, you’ll leave me. The minute you see the scars, you’ll be gone.”


I would have never turned my back on you. Just the thought of you believing I would was enough to break me. And it did.

I’ve never told a soul about your tears or the way I screamed after you that I loved you while you slammed the door to your car and raced off. How I crumpled beside my own car, too weak to even open the door and get in. How I cried for you on the cold, hard floor of that stupid parking deck.

I had already seen the scars on your soul and I loved them. How could you think I wouldn’t also love the scars of your flesh?

You called me months later, after I had left town. I drove back to see you and you told me you were sorry about that night in the parking deck. Your apology meant nothing to me because I didn’t need it. I never needed you to apologize for anything you did, were, or felt. It wasn’t that way with us and you knew it.

That was the last time I ever saw you.

I know you are out in the world, J, because I looked you up. I hope life hasn’t changed you much…your core, your center. I hope you are the same J I knew and loved. Mostly, I just hope you found a way to finally wrestle your demons. I hope you have made peace with yourself.

I’m sorry I could never help you do that.

Maybe my memory of you is stronger than the one you keep of me. Maybe our time together meant more to me than it ever did to you. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t love you because I hoped you would love me back. I loved you because I had to. Because it was all I could do. Because it was the only thing I could do and it didn’t matter if you felt the same. I can no more choose who my soul connects with than I could have chosen my parents at birth. We are all free to love but we are not guaranteed that our love will be reciprocated. If any of you are waiting for someone to love you back before you give your own love freely, then many are the moments of life you will miss out on. Beautiful are the people you will never know.

I’m glad I didn’t miss out on my moment with Joel.

Anyway, I’m locking you back up now, okay, J? I can only take so much. I wish the best for you and I always will but it hurts to think of you. I’ll love you always but I have to say goodbye for now. It isn’t forever. I know your memory will pound on my heart again and my soul will set you free.

For several days now, I’ve had this song on continuous loop…in my car, on my computer, anywhere I found myself alone and had a moment to listen. I knew it was speaking to some deep part of me but I couldn’t figure out why or what it wanted me to know. When I started writing this to J, it all made sense and I finally understood. Even though Conor is telling his own story in this song and it isn’t mine, I found Joel in the lyrics anyway. Not in the individual words, because the story Conor tells is a very personal one, but in the song as a whole. Like the way a good book can take you places you didn’t even know you could go. That’s what Conor did for me by sharing his story and I want to share it with you.

You will need to turn the volume up as loud as you can stand it. It’s the only way to take this ride.

Raining Baseballs And Other Things That Might Kill You

Guess what? I don’t have liver cancer (yeah, I actually thought I did). Well, at least the blood work came back normal for liver function so whether that means I’m in the clear or not, I don’t know. But it has at least quieted the demons in my head that are trying to kill me.

Although, last night I couldn’t fall asleep until well after 2 a.m. because I was sure my head was going to explode. It’s true. I had a shooting pain in my left temple and could feel this intense pressure mounting. (I’ve been afraid of aneurysms ever since I learned how to look up words in the dictionary.) Every time I nodded off, I jerked myself back awake. I guess I don’t think I can die if I’m awake? Don’t know. I tried to explain to the creator that I don’t actually want to die yet even though I keep saying to just off me now seeing as how my life is one big ball of shit. Maybe he listened? Again, don’t know. All I know is I’m alive this morning and that’s good, right?

This is what I do, in case you are not familiar. I don’t think I’m a hypochondriac per say. I just worry incessantly about the Grim Reaper. A few weeks ago when I fell and busted up my face, I was sure of two things: 1) The fall had caused a blood clot so deep in my brain that it would be inoperable, and 2) My nose was broken but since I couldn’t afford to do anything about it, it would eventually heal on its own causing all the cartilage to be damaged, thereby causing the decay of said cartilage and resulting in my nose collapsing sometime in the near or distant future (I still worry this could happen).

Then there was the time in college I was staying over with my boyfriend. I woke him up in the middle of the night to tell him I was going to have an aneurysm (see what I mean about the aneurysm thing?). I think he called me a crazy bitch before he rolled back over. I drove myself to the ER and sat in the waiting room, thinking (logically, of course) that at least I was in the right place if my head was going to blow up. I never even checked in. Just sat there. After a while, the sun started to come up and I felt safe again, so I drove back to my boyfriend’s house and let myself in. He didn’t wake up. Or if he did, he didn’t acknowledge my return. Can’t really say I blame him either way.

I wonder why we broke up?

When I was little, I was petrified of lying on my back in bed because I was sure baseballs were going to rain from the ceiling and crush my chest. I thought that if I slept on my side, the raining baseballs would do less bodily harm. (What are you laughing at?)

Strangely, I don’t worry about common things like burglars and rapists or even the swine flue. You know, the kind of things that are more likely to actually happen.

I worry about things like this: blood suddenly pouring down my walls from the cracks in the ceiling, my door opening of its own accord and a ghost child glaring in at me, my bed taking on a life of its own and levitating, apparitions accosting me in the hallway in the middle of the night on my way to the bathroom (I used to have this thing where I had to make it back in the bed, feet up, under the covers, before the toilet finished flushing. Something bad would happen if I didn’t. Luckily, I never found out what because halfway back from the bathroom, I would take a sprinting leap and land on all fours in the middle of the bed before the toilet even had time to finish its twirling. My boyfriend at the time was not fond of this behavior but he didn’t have to live with the dark images so there’s no way he could understand). And, of course, the liver cancer, lung cancer, aneurysms, blood clots. Those kinds of things.

Meanwhile, I skip merrily through a darkened alley looking for ghosts and get my ass snatched, raped, killed, and thrown in a dumpster.

Oops. Didn’t see that one coming.

What’s In Your Headphones

 Music is salve for the soul. My soul, at least. I can’t speak for yours. If I live through a million failures, a thousand accomplishments, a multitude of heartache, I’ll still never be able to dip my pen into the inkwell of my soul and articulate my thoughts to you in verse. Not ever. 

 A dozen people can listen to the same song and generate from it a different feeling. That’s the beauty of music. It plays for us all on our own individual turntables. We walk this way surrounded but alone, each on a different path to the same destination. How we get there is a journey no one can share. We can commiserate, we can empathize, we can love, but we are ultimately alone. 

Music unites us at the same time it separates us. How many times have you tried to share your favorite song, your favorite artist with someone? You can’t. We can listen to the same song together in a space as confined as a car and each be a million miles away from the other. You can’t make someone see the world through your eyes, make them feel the pain from the wounds that reside beneath your flesh, make them hear the unique rhythm of your heart beat, or have them traverse the valleys in your mind. We each hear the music in our own way. Where one of us sees darkness, another sees light. Where one of us hears a melody in the breeze, another is lost in silence. Where one of us is crippled by abuse, another is made strong. (I suppose, if you are very lucky in this lifetime, you may find one or a handful of people who get it the same way you get it. And if you are ever so lucky, you should probably hold on real tight to that shit, maybe triple wrap them up in that bubble padding stuff and super glue them to your body.) 

And still. Even though we know all this. Even though we know that music is our own personal antidote against the world, against this life….. we still struggle to share the songs we hear, the artists we love. We (or at least I) want to know… what’s in your headphones right now? Maybe it is something so inconsequential that it requires zero thought because you can’t think another minute today. Maybe it is something that pierces your soul so harshly that you can’t help but think of last summer when you should have done something but didn’t. Maybe it is something that renders you so helpless all you can do is press rewind…. again and again. Maybe it is none of those things. Maybe it’s just a good time. Whatever it is, what is it? I’ll tell you what’s in my headphones right now and why. And maybe you will feel inclined to share with me what’s in yours? 

Eminem: For enduring a lifetime of bullshit and persevering; for baring his soul naked to the world and standing unabashed underneath the giant stream of piss that some of you aim at it; for bringing me to tears and then drying them with laughter in the space of one song, fueling and then quelling the despair inside of me; for the sense of humor he aims at himself to drown his insecurities; for shoving his dick up our ass and daring us to critique him after he’s already critiqued himself in a light far harsher than ours will ever be; for his vulnerability and his strength; his angels and his demons; the hurt, the anger, and the love that are in a constant state of battle for primary residence inside of him; for wrecking himself completely for his art, giving every part of himself to the music and not ironing out the wrinkles in his soul or washing the dirt off his psyche before he steps out into the world; for showing us the darkness because without it the light would have no meaning; for allowing us to gather as bystanders on the sideline of his life; for being so painfully and completely real and not giving a shit if we can handle it or not (can we?); for being a complete jerk one minute and a sentimental fuck the next and never requiring forgiveness because the music is his own, not ours; for never just skimming the surface but going down deep where it’s dark and muddy and resurfacing in a shower of complex brilliance – showing us the prison bars of his freedom and giving us more in his one lifetime than we can ever give back; allowing us to kneel hungrily at his feet and suck him dry, taking everything he offers, inhaling the very life out of him while begging him for more…. 

Shit. Do I sound obsessed? I am simply amazed. Amazed that there is a person sharing the space of this earth with us who is swimming so far out in the deepest part of the ocean without a life jacket on, cut and bruised, bloody and worn. (Isn’t he afraid of sharks? No. He isn’t). The rest of us are wading here in the tide with our feet planted firmly in the sand, our life jackets strapped tight around us. Do any of us have the courage to untie these straps and swim out there into the deep water, too? Will we risk being beaten up and spit out by the world if we unlock the demons that reside in our closets? Will we risk getting to know each other? Or will we shrivel up and die here on this beach, trading weather stats and baseball stats and what we ate for dinner stats?  

Dear Heaven: Just off me now if all that is in store for my life are fucking plants from the Home Depot and shopping for antiques (Did you know I fucking hate antiques?.. Or maybe I just hated antiques with you).

Ani Difranco: for her wit; for her balls; for refusing to sell out; for daring to be different; for never diminishing her art by shaking her ass just to sell a few records; for a middle finger turned up to the record labels; for the complexity of her lyrics; for wearing out my rewind button.  

Bright Eyes: For flawed perfection (is there any other kind?); for hearing Conor’s voice crack in the middle of a song and knowing he’s real; for simple lyrics that hold so much depth, especially for I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.  

Keb’ Mo’: For finding me at the nature store. You were just sitting there on a rack filled with CD’s that promised to play bird songs, orca whale songs, rain forest lullaby’s. What were you doing there, Mr. Mo’? You were waiting for me, I know. Thank you for telling me about Henry and his steel guitar; for still climbing up the mountain top; for giving me back a sense of forgiveness; for showing me love and pain and pleasure with the strings of your guitar. 

 I know I did not do justice to a single one of these people. But I know they won’t hold it against me. They are all out there in the ocean, some not quite as far as others,but out there nonetheless. I am standing on the shore and this is as far as my shore-weary eyes can see. 

Just turn the fucking music up already.

Bandwagon Express

In Pine Lake. Georgia, where I once lived, there was a lady who nailed a canvas onto the posts of her wooden fence. She painted sorrow with sunshine and flowers. Decay with lilies and moss. Sometimes she painted the occasional sage expression. There was a four-way stop in front of her house so it was impossible not to see the canvas if you lived in the neighborhood.

Each morning, on my way to work, I would crawl to a pause in front of the canvas to see what her art would inspire in me, if anything, or to swallow her words of wisdom like breakfast and digest them as I drove the 30 miles to a job that required nothing of me and inspired even less.

One day, it was this: “We have come to this great place to be fools or to be excellent.”

I remember wanting to laugh maniacally some mornings as I thought about that and other times I found myself nodding my head in agreement. So many times, I would see her out on her stoop, drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette and I would want to pull over the car and ask her, “Am I a fool or am I excellent? How do I know when I’m not a fool anymore? How will I know when I have achieved excellence?” But then I would look over at her, staring down into the coffee grains at the bottom of her cup, watching the tip of her cigarette burn bright orange as she inhaled, and I knew she was wondering the exact same thing.

Finally, after about a month, she covered it up with something generic about peace, love, and harmony. A saying that slides like drool out of the corner of our mouths while our feet remain firmly planted on the same hard ground we have been harvesting since conception.

I wondered if she had lost her inspiration or if she was just dumbing down her art for the sake of her viewers.

But, then, one morning, a Saturday, I took Elijah for a walk and I stopped in front of her canvas and written there in tiny letters and in almost the exact color of the blue background she had chosen, were these words: “Like sticking a magnetic peace sign on the back of your Prius, it don’t mean shit.”

I was so relieved. I didn’t realize I had been holding my breath until I let it out. I think I even had tears in my eyes. Elijah hiked his leg and pissed on her mailbox (I guess he was relieved, too). It was a beautiful moment.

We walked home and I thought about her canvas. I thought about the way we label ourselves before we step out into the world. From the fabric of our clothes, to the car we drive, to the way we style our hair. All of it – one big flashing neon advertisement to the world about who we are and what we believe in.

And it’s all crap. Every single bit of it.

Being vegan doesn’t make you hip. Buying organic doesn’t make you environmentally aware. Listening to rap music doesn’t make you a thug. Wearing tie-dye and following jam bands doesn’t make you a hippie. Collecting records and knowing as many unknown musicians as possible doesn’t make you eclectic or cool.

We can’t subscribe to a culture or a way of life like we subscribe to a magazine or a radio station.

And yet, we try so hard to do just that. We try so hard to grind down and compress the intricate, simple, complex pieces that make us who we are, and who no one else can be, until our brain has been boiled down to flavorless mush; offering it in our outstretched hands to our neighbor, a stranger, the guy on the subway, and all the while it’s pouring through the cracks of our fingers until we are left with nothing by days end.

Pretty soon we can’t remember the last time we admitted out loud that we actually like Bruce Springsteen (gasp!), or that recycling is really a pain in the ass, and we’d give anything to trade that Prius back in for our gas-guzzling Chevy Tahoe.

Shhh! Don’t say those things outloud!

Oh No!

Look out the window, kiddies. Here he comes and he’s saying, “All Aboard!” The bandwagon conductor is circling the neighborhood and that bitch won’t stop until he’s got every last one of us on the back of that ride – jammed in like peanut butter between two slices of white bread.

And we’re off!

Hey, look! There go the hippies in the VW bus! And over there, it’s the thugs raised up in the Escalade! Look at the ‘green team,’ they’re being propelled forward by the fumes produced from their own gas.

No matter how good potato salad claims to be, it’s still just potato salad, folks.

As for me, I’m going to slip off my Sperry’s (aren’t those the latest in footwear?), unplug the toaster from the counter (I heard it was good for the planet), throw on a rap record and vibe (to get in touch with my inner thug), scramble some tofu (no animals were harmed in the packaging of this product)…… and uncork a bottle of red (because I just feel like it).

And I’m only going to have one conversation with myself tonight as the vino slides down my throat, numbing my body and quieting my mind:

Will I continue to be a fool…. or will I be excellent?

After I pass out, then wake back up, I’ll let you know the answer.