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Twinges | 2009 | Zoological Equivalent

05.15.09 1:43 p.m.

I have the choice of being constantly active and happy or introspectively passive and sad. Or I can go mad by ricocheting in between.  

-Sylvia Plath


In Bloom

There are no really sad pictures of me. There is a reason.

I was first knew depression when finishing a collection of Bloom County comics. Bloom County, for those of you who don't remember, was a comic drawn by Berke Breathed that has gone through several incarnations, transmuting into Outland and then Opus (which was retired last year, with the eponymous character being bodily absorbed into Goodnight, Moon), and usually featuring a large nosed penguin named Opus and political satire. If you don't remember this, if you never read it, that doesn't really matter. The crux is, reading a comic strip made me feel desolation for the first time.

I was twelve or thirteen when I read this book I undoubtedly spent too much of my lunch money on because it was one of my favorite Sunday comics. (I was never the type for Peanuts or Blondie.) I read through it for the faint plot I found beneath the politics I only slightly understood then. There was a surreal humanity to it all that I enjoyed and with which I identified.

Then I got near the end, where everyone is moving on, to other strips or just ceasing to exist. Opus is fighting it, clinging to Outland as his home, even though it has begun to fade away. A little girl with cornrows, someone who never seemed terribly important to the book, was walking with him. There was something so despairing in this fictional world vanishing and all his friends abandoning him. It struck me, like something powerful sureness had been taken from me, replaced with a brittle truth. There wasn't certainty in most things and, despite clinging, someone would kick you through to an unfamiliar world that would not contain the faces you knew.

It reminded me of when I first discovered that I would eventually die. I was in kindergarten and we were made to watch a film strip about ancient Egypt. The film strip was not appropriate for my age group, though I doubt my teacher cared. These desiccated, eyeless corpses stared back at us (undoubtedly inspiring nightmares and pants wetting) as a narrator droned about the religious justification behind mummification and I grasped why they did it, a fear that instantly infected me like some curse. I was mortal. Everyone I loved was mortal. There was nothing I could do about it. Until this point, I do not think it fully occurred to me that death was something that happened outside of daytime television and ants on the wrong end of a magnifying glass. It may not be coincidental, then, that I soon acquired the ability to read and devoured all the books on paranormal phenomena that my school library held. The Ancient Egyptians couldn't beat mortality, but maybe I could.

After finishing this book and for years, there was this hollowness within me I could not fill. I would have these hormonal fits of despair, though I didn't acknowledge that it was hormonal at the time. What I felt was who I was. Since I felt depressed, I was depressed. I still have occasions of this hollowness, especially when I feel trapped. When I'm in a situation and I don't know how to handle it. The quickest way is to - literally or metaphorically - get me lost in unfamiliar territory. It is a panic, a shortness of breath, a tightness in my chest. I haven't really been depressed for a while. I have been deeply sad but it wasn't depression. There was a reason for it, I could explain it to people who cared and that made the difference. I've lost track of when I was last depressed for any significant amount of time and am grateful.

I know people who are still depressed, who discovered it in their twenties and thirties as though they were the first ones to have ever felt so at a loss. I don't think I'm better than them, but I am out of the conditions that fostered this vacancy in my emotions. Even when Emily left, I wasn't depressed. I was distraught for forty-eight hours, but then I got over it because I had to. I had to admit that there is going to be a future and I definitely wished to be a part of it. Therefore, I need to suck it up and move on rather than staying in bed and feeling miserable. Depression is something that happens rather than something I am, a psychoemotional cold I can best fight by leaving my house and enjoying the daylight while I have it.

While moving, I found this book again, its cover torn almost off, some pages fatally dog-eared, and I flung it into the trash with all the force I could muster.

Soon in Xenology: When I was a girl. Making friends out of clay. Sweet sorrow.

last watched: Gake no Ue no Ponyo
reading: On a Pale Horse
listening: Zen Debris

Twinges | 2009 | Zoological Equivalent

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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