Last Friday ends a bumpy week. Memorial Day is an indistinct holiday, obscured in childhood by school’s release, a blur having to do with big sales and taking the boat out. Seattle’s Memorial Day 2013 is grey and cold with a steady rain, well-matched to the desperate, grasping mood hanging on from Sunday. I don’t get out of bed until 10 and miss the service held downtown: a modest crowd and the Fire Department’s color guard in front of a stone wall engraved with names. I made it last year. It was the first Memorial Day I had done something honorable.
I spent Sunday crying and don’t remember why. I call my doctor Tuesday and she sees me right away. There is discussion of dosages, effects, a plan and an alternate. She told me the same thing in email weeks ago but I am fixated on this dose worked before. She says it’s different now, you are dealing with different things. Afterwards, it feels better. I wonder if I expect too much from doctors.
The week bumps its camel mass clumsy through its days, but they are better. I call a friend who measures my improvement by my swearing less. This is funny. There are times I feel funny, as in generative of laughter. I am not working on the book but having ideas, tight twists, things not to add but to throw away; my subconscious is still interested.
The dose goes up a little at a time. Each time, wait and see. I don’t feel like crying and add a little more.
Weekends are tougher, I told the doctor. You’ve got less to distract you, she said.
I feel a net is forming beneath me, but hardly strong. At ten milligrams the spiders building it keep misreading the blueprints, tie the wrong knots, leave big patches. At twelve milligrams the spiders find rope, take their gloves off when they tie the knots. I feel their work even through Friday, but adulthood brings irony: the day most freeing as a kid now pulls down into smoke and water.
I’ve been taking the stuff in early evening instead of before bed: I might as well be awake while the concentration is highest. Timing is everything. Nights are a little loopy but at least I can laugh at Stephen Colbert.
Sunlight streams in the windowed office. Nothing is wrong; there are no emergencies. I have a date Saturday, a day trip with a great friend Sunday. I should feel happy–it’s Friday. I don’t want to cry but can imagine what crying would be like.
Traffic denies the city, and I know in this upscale part of town there must be a park to sit at, read a book, wait it out. Uphill past the techno-complex the street narrows to four-way stops and little houses that were cheap when our grandparents bought them. Up and down a hill there is the blue-grey city sign for Lake Hills Greenbelt Park. The parking lot is shade and cottonwood fluff. A large kiosk explains the land is private but free to all. Take a ticket for your non-motorized boat. The place smells Northwest summer: mown grass, damp moss, the light dust smell of rock cooked in the sun.
A long dock leads to a square pier, benches on one side, railing all around. The lake is small: boring for a real boat but a doable swimming challenge. Lilies float their round faces at the sun. But for a distant leafblower, it is quiet.
The bench is the same weatherbeaten wood as everything else, the planks as much torn as sawed. It is comfortable to sit on, as benches go. I read Cutting for Stone, the book my therapist recommended as amazing, which I bought on December 16th, and which I could have easily read then. I didn’t. Why didn’t I? Why didn’t I do so many things?
Is the shift in my questioning and doubt from my marriage and divorce to the old existential standbys an improvement? April was vibrating in anxiety’s blue arc, May the first glimmer of normal-feeling days with weekends sinking down again, spiced up with Sunday crying jags. My answer is that asking any questions is better.
I read, sun on my back. When I was younger I read all the time–I mean, all the time: stuff for class, stuff for myself, science and literature and pinko magazines. I barely read anything now. Reading this book feels solid. It has a stout physical presence, the kind of heft suitable for whacking a bad dog. I took a while to get started as I re-read the preamble several times: a masterful weaving of the narrator in the present, his path to his past through a mother and father he didn’t know, his presence here telling the story while projecting me backwards to the living then. It is magic. In high school the book would sadden me–I could never do this–but I get it now. I see the craft in the art. If I were to imitate this book, I would now have the sense to outline it.
Other people come: a tall white woman, distended from motherhood, her son pushing his wooden bike to the railing and dropping it in a clatter. She lifts him to the railing and he wails, afraid of falling: no, ma, down, down! She laughs and lowers him. An Asian couple, age drawing down their even faces, proceed in hairdsbreath caliper steps, his hands behind his back. They stop at the railing, her hands birch bark ribbons against the grey wood, his hands still clasped behind his back, their quiet talk cast to the water.
I read an hour, more or less. A man on a bike comes. He dismounts and stretches, stands, breathes as I push on a few more pages, reread artful sentences. I see only his legs in my concentration, hear his breath whoosh. I stop reading, not because of him, but because I remember being a kid lying back and watching clouds.
The bench is a deep square, plenty long enough for lying back and staring up. The sky is mostly clear, the few clouds a mix of density and wisp. For a moment they are blobs and auras, but gradually things appear. The white skull that becomes The Twilight Zone title in the 1980s series hardens into a train’s cowcatcher, and something like the Concorde merged with a clown is farther east. I am entranced by a modest puffball overhead, layers pulling and twisting, an aurora of mist. It is amazing: calm beauty, right up there. I don’t think to get the camera until all are gone but this Santa’s face.
It has been a hard time. The previous Friday did not go as planned, caught in a conversation I didn’t intend, and then another that led to cryable guilt. The tiny office I’d repaired to for writing and waiting out traffic grew darker and more silent, lights and monitors turning themselves off. My car alone in a dark lot; a fast, deserted ride home to an exhausted and forlorn house. I cried some more Sunday. The week was better, but not solved. So what are you doing to make this weekend better? I have come to this park, and the clouds dance for me.
The man with the bike asks me for the time. “Ah, another thirty minutes,” he says in a Russian accent. He wears a grey track suit with dark stripes down the sides, the kind of thing I remember from Eighties riffs about joggers. “I shall do my breathing, then home, to cook dinner for the children. Do you know tai chi?” As he bends to a new, slight shape I explain my weekly yoga class. “It would be good for you to move, to release energy. Unless you are a monk, the energy becomes trapped. This chi, it must move, be shifted, allowed to free. But you know this.”
Russians are like him: direct, friendly, slightly superior, imbued with cultured bombast. Dark hair curls out of his shirt collar, shoes squeaking on the dock as he turns, lifting his hands. I read and watch the clouds, the sun warm on us.
Multiple text conversations silently waft through the sunny ether as the Russian curls and bends. You’ve been struggling too long and you’re getting worse. When I started it was two days and I felt better. Yeah I understand I went off meds once never will again would not wish that anxiety on anybody except maybe my ex ha.
I read a little more about the fictional Indian doctors in Africa. I lean back to look at the clouds but the sky is clear. I close my eyes to the Russian’s breathing. The anxiety has turned to depression, but at least I am here now, breathing with the Russian. I sit up to check the phone and it is time for him to go.
Ah, just enough. He bends and leans his way back down the pier, where his bike is. The friendly stranger conversation starts: do you work around here, I live just over there, have you been here before.
He was part of the first ever Microsoft layoffs, back in 2009. He was bitter. For a long time angry. He had given them everything I knew was implicit in the two fulltime offers I’d turned down: all his time, all his energy, everything they asked and more, always more. Why did you? Because I believed I needed it.
He fixes his helmet. These are the things we believe, that we need this car, this house. This bike, this thing. His gloved hands gently slap its handlebars. But these are just things; they are not your family, your friends. To know this is not what they want. When you are there–he points over his shoulder, back up toward Redmond, Microsoft’s heart–and you are of such mind, in Russian we say: you are white crow. They are all crows. How many white crows have you seen? For such things, if you are white, you are no crow.
His voice soothes, calm and folding as the clouds.
I have my children, family, this practice, more time. I work there as contractor now, like you. At night I go home. Better. Will be better for you too.
Hungry children wait for his grilling, a family Friday night. I thank him as he gets on the bike. He explains tai chi again, that I should try it. Maybe I will see him again. Possible, yes, take care. His bike clicks away.
The water is still, sun long behind me. What chance brought a Russian come to know the release of truth out to this pier, this day, to me? What brought the kind people in New York, at jobs I don’t remember, at Interstate rest stops when I was stuck and twenty years old? Everywhere there are kind people on the other side of the fire, able to recognize and give. Their shape is always changing, the meaning invisible in the outer randomness. Sometimes when we see what we think we need, that’s what is really there.