January 2
9, 2009

By Roger Emile Stouff

When I started writing this column Monday morning, I was feeling depressed, and unsure why. Sounds like an entry in a teenage girlís diary, doesnít it? But it happens. It happens now and then. Runs in the family, I guess. Practically gallops, as Mortimer Brewster might say.

People ask, "What are you depressed about?"

I say, "I donít know."

Isnít that crazy? How can you be depressed without a reason? Without knowing why? Sure, itís common these days. Clinical, even.

It starts two ways: Either as a gentle nudging, of something not quite rightÖbutterflies in the stomach, a sense of undefined anxiety. Other than that, I might just wake up and itís just there. A companion, of sorts, because it takes on a life of its own.

I converse with it, sometimes. Yeah, I know. But I do. Discussion is better than medication. Iíd rather talk things out with my depression than take pills. I hate pills. And itís cheap therapy, really. No hourly fees, and I reward myself with a cookie when Iím done.

We discuss what, exactly, it wants here, what it expects of me. It doesnít answer these questions directly. Instead, it conjures little memories for me to attempt interpretation. Memories of people I once shared this life with, who had the same blood as mine. Or didnít. It shows me dreams that never came true. Some that did. Sometimes, I can vividly see myself standing on the Beach at Charenton and thereís no end to Grand Lake in sight. Sometimes, instead, I see galleons come up from the river, iron helmets flashing bright in the sun. Or myself at ten, riding my grandmotherís Snapper Comet lawn mower, cutting the grass in front of her/my/our house, careful not to cut her flowers.

I donít know. What does it want with me? Iím not sure. I know that Iíve led a life largely comprised of loss. Iíve lost more already than I should have were I much older. I remind myself of Harry Middletonís uncle who had been widowed three times:

"A man shouldnít lose three of anything," he said.

When I feel this way, things come to mind, but I canít be sure if theyíre the reason for it, or have just dropped in to crash the party. Misery loves company, after all. For instance, I think perhaps it may be because my cousin and I tried to get into Grand Avoille Cove this weekend, and it was too shallow. Slowly dying from siltation, an emphysema of water bodies. But no, I felt the tingling of it earlier last week, and knew it was there, a rough beast, as Yeats knew, slouching toward my soul to be born.

Can you imagine the party my depression might throw? Itíll serve drinks in Mickey Mouse cups from a dispenser next to the toothpaste and toothbrush. And finger foods, because Iím not classy enough to serve hors d'oeuvre at any party my depression might throw. Hors d'úuvres are chips and spinach dip to me. Or maybe French onion. My depression doesnít need to impress via caviar. Itís on a pizza budget, too.

So at this party for which depression sent out invitations to all my losses and regrets, some of my guilts and dreams heard about it and decided to crash, and they stand around talking like Iím not even in the room listening.

"What, you think he would have turned out any different if he had been a doctor or something?" my Regret Over Not Finishing College queries.

"No," corrects my Dream of Digging For Native American Sites. "He was going to be an archaeologist. Ran out of money spittiní distance from his senior year, though. Tsk-tsk."

This strikes my Missing All The Old People Who Raised Me as funny and he guffaws, spilling his martini glass full of vitriol on his fly fishing vest. "You guys," he says, wiping his vest with a napkin that looks suspiciously like a five-year-oldís Spiderman pajamas. I think I remember that lad, but heís been gone so, so longÖ

"Doesnít matter," claims Regret. "Heíd still be the same."

"But he might have made some serious money as an architect," says my Fruitless Ambition.

"Ha," says my Uncontrollable Need For More Fly Rods. "Heís been walking away from good money all his life, why should being a lawyer or a doctor or an astronaut matter? Heíd just spend it all on fly rods anyway, and grow old and die in a cardboard box behind an Orvis store."

True, true, I nod from my corner where Iím hiding behind a vase of lovely forget-me-nots. Thereís a copy of Native Waters there on the table beside it. They know me all too well. But I chastise Uncontrollable for stealing a line from John Gierach. The one about walking away from good money, that is. Iím not that depressed, to stoop to plagiarism.

I step out from behind the vase to confront them, noticing that the flowers have somehow become snapdragons, and sure that thereís an allegory there but I canít quite figure out what it is, and forget the confrontation. Beside the vase is a copy of another of my books, and itís open, and I read:

When we stop chasing thunderbirds, what else is there?

But of course none of thatís real, itís just a fancy I have. In a few days, itíll pass, and Iíll be back to myself, cracking wise and pontificating philosophically, rather than staring out the window at a distant line of trees, and the wisps of clouds drifting over them, somewhere I canít see but think I can smell, hear and certainly imagine.

Lots of things make me happy, like the female Northern Cardinal I saw at Suzieís bird feeder early one morning, and it was bright yellow! Beautiful, beautiful creature. Sunsets make me happy. My girl makes me happy. My pets make me happy. Itís no big deal. Itís the things that are indefinable, I think. The weak animals the predator that is depression preys upon.

Itís just a visitor, of sorts. It comes, and then it goes, and we tolerate each otherís company for the duration of its stay. Like I said, it seems to be partially genetic. And when itís gone, I give a sigh of relief and continue on my merry way, and sometimes catch just the very faintest scent of gardenias wafting through the air. Then itís gone.