(Artwork by me, watercolor and ink)
I couldn’t fight back because he was so much bigger than me. Like the massive shadow cast from the Tower of Babel, my dad was a biblical man with all the fire and brimstone of a good Catholic. He was a Polish immigrant and a hard worker. He was a doctor—a psychiatrist. I’m not sure where it was I first met Depression, but he brought me back here to my childhood home.
It was a large white house with blue shutters. In the front, two massive blue spruce trees hid all the fighting and shouting that went on inside. Sometimes, it leaked out. With four brothers and two sisters– seven of us in total, it was hard to keep everything inside. I often went exploring in our backyard. The house itself had a presence. I felt like it watched us but did nothing to help.
Michigan days were usually gray. The sky was a lumpy iron wall that tried to keep us caged in the cold. But, our backyard was a wonderland in my imagination. We lived on a hill that swooped down into a valley. It was lined in a thicket of trees with a curl of stepping stones that allowed me to pretend I was in a fairytale. With God and the devil being real characters that haunted people and turned the wicked into pillars of salt, it wasn’t a far stretch to pretend other things.
“I watched you play,” said faceless Depression.
I saw myself, too. My child-self. I must have been around eight or so. I was a little overweight girl with bowl cut brown hair and thick, plastic framed glasses. I remember hating them. I resented my near-sightedness. Even now, looking at my younger self, I could see why I was badly bullied.
My dad’s room was the office library. I avoided playing outside near the sliding glass door that led to the backyard. I knew he could see me through there. I did my best to ever be seen by anyone. I wanted, more than anything, to hide from the world. I just wanted to live in the fantastical places I created instead.
The office library was covered in books, newspapers, and old junkmail. The walls were lined in serious, strange paintings of Catholic saints and figures. The somber faces were mythical in themselves, holding their bloodied, battered hearts pierced in swords and stars. My dad’s bookshelves also had statues and figurines– Saint Michael the arch angel with his giant, white wings and golden halo. An ivory statue of Saint George, with his mighty spear thrusting into a dragon. There was always a shroud of fantasy, fear, and magic around the religion that resounded with my overactive imagination.
My six brothers and sisters were already blown apart when I was very young. I felt like we belonged to three families in one. There were the three oldest children– grown, moved out, or in college. The middle two, loud and troubled and in need of constant attention. Then, there was my younger brother and I. We were alone for the most part growing up. We took care of ourselves and asked for very little.
“Why here?” I asked, turning to Depression. He was a tall, dark shadow with just a blur for a face. He was tall enough to blend in with a thatch of tree branches. A gentle wind picked up, rustling everything except his still, quiet presence. It seemed like any other day in my childhood. I expected he would have brought us to something more significant, like some traumatic event.
“I was born here,” Depression said finally. “We met here.”
I could hear my dad hum to himself, as he did often. They were always old church hymns, thrumming in his deep baritone. In the distance, old church bells knelled followed the whistle of a lonely train went by. My child self continued to avoid being seen through the sliding glass door. She was playing a game with a stick– which was at the time a sword. She never played with other girls, and usually climbed trees while her dolls were lost and forgotten in the bottom of a closet. She never wanted to be a girl.
“I think I want to go back,” I said, turning to Depression.
But, we stood there for a while. A little longer than was comfortable.
My child self ran by the sliding glass door, afraid to catch my father’s attention. He was drinking wine again, a dry, red Merlot. Just past the sliding glass door, a huge hawthorn tree grew. The tree often shed its thorns onto the ground, and huge half inch spikes littered the grass. I was barefoot at the time.
“Jesus’ crown when he was crucified was said to be made from a hawthorn tree,” I remembered my dad saying when I asked if we could cut it down. I had stepped on the needles a time or two. My foot bled rivers through the grass.
“Ah!” I heard my child self cry out once again. I refused to wear shoes outside, throwing common sense to the wind. I watched myself pull the long, brown thorn from my foot. Bright red blood bloomed from my skin. My child self thought about the crown that pierced Christ’s head, long sharp spikes. I thought about the statues in my father’s room, spears digging into the head of the dragon. I looked up at Depression, and together we left the memory.