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Monday, December 28, 2015

1962: Flunking into Depression—and Out

This story was not going to be a story. I had just tossed the poem below into my file of things that might someday fit among my autobiographical sketches. The poem is about a descent into and escape from depression. It is a fairly simple story because it tells of a personal journey that took place over thirty hours, less than two days, in 1962. I remembered the journey well enough to write it down in 1977 when Marney flirted with depression from our frustrations in getting down to work at the beginning of our Peace Corps assignment in Guatemala. I wanted my own experience to help her. I doubt it did; events took over; we were soon down to work. I see now that this experience is an important piece in the story not only of my emotional development, but also intellectual and artistic. At most, the poem hints at the larger story. Thus, this extended introduction is more important as an autobiographical sketch than is the poem. Where do I start?

I flunked English,
my first quarter at Dartmouth College.
Humbled-but-hopeful, I traveled 1400 miles by train home for Christmas break.
Second quarter
I flunked my second quarter of Calculus.
Devastated, I began the long train ride home that five years later produced the poem below.

Perhaps I will recall and write sketches that tell more of how I gradually discovered how my brain works, and, therefrom, discovered who I am. For now, I tell you that the low point came in 1963 somewhere along my solo train journey from White River Junction, Vermont to St. Paul, Minnesota. The journey started at the office door of my Calculus professor where I saw I had failed his class. I had achieved a passing grade in only four of the six college courses I had taken.

I do not remember by what means I went directly from his office to the railroad station in White River Junction. There I boarded a Boston-and-Maine train and began my thirty-hour railroad journey that continued over night on the New York Central, and finished on the Northern Pacific. I was headed home for spring break. From White River Junction I transferred in Springfield, Massachusetts to the New York Central which took me through Albany, New York to Chicago, Illinois. After a walk across the Chicago “Loop” from LaSalle-Street Station to Union Station I boarded the Northern Pacific train that took me to Union Station, St. Paul.

Twelve weeks earlier, arriving home for Christmas break with my first failed class heavy on my heart, I had lingered in the frigid air of the St. Paul morning. Not quite ready to put myself and my story onto the city bus that would take me to family and home, I walked around for half an hour waiting for the department stores to open. I wanted an emotional massage from the hustle, bustle and sparkle of Christmas. I remember the soothing distraction I got walking (for the first time) through a doorless heated entry into the sparkles and smiles of Christmas. I did nothing more than ride escalators up and down--first in one large department store, then the other. Then, somewhat fortified and comforted, I boarded the bus for the short ride from downtown to home.

The season of this second journey in failure offered no such massage. Nor did I seek one. I wanted only to get the difficult task over: tell my proud parents and high-performing sisters of my latest failure. I had by journey's end come to peace with my failure. I was prepared to return to Dartmouth and enjoy what could be my last weeks in this still-exotic place far from home. I knew that during this visit I could offer my family only disappointment, and that they knew they could do little to ease my pain and theirs. I boarded the Hamline-Cherokee bus at 7th and Wabasha., got off at Minnehaha and Pascal into a week of blur I scarcely remember. I know I felt resigned to my fate and confident I had found something in myself (a vague something) during the train ride. I also knew I had to test that something back at Dartmouth. I felt prepared for both both worst and best outcomes in the next academic quarter. Spring break could be no more than a calm before my test. I can now say I tested the words of this poem well before I wrote them. I, the tester, give them a passing grade.

Finally, below, “the poem below”:


I get way up
I can go way down
in all aspects of life
and in almost all
I can go with others
or cling to others
be pushed by others
or pulled by others
tromped by others
stifled by others
encouraged by others
or exalted by others.
But when I go way down
in the aspect of inside outedness
when vacuum has sucked my energy
from the top of my brain
down through a taut throat
past a heart that just beats
past lungs that just breathe
sinking lower
when it's impossible to sink lower
when I don't give a damn
to be pushed
or exalted by others
my hands with fingers groping in
rather than out
are incapable of clinging.
I don't care if I'm stifled by others
or tromped by others.
I can't go with others
because there are no others.
There is only self
a sunken self
a sinking self
a self traveling alone
a self which
try as it may
cannot sink beyond itself.
The further I sink
the smaller the prison.
So I begin to swell
in claustrophobic hate of self.
I want out.
I know there's a way
but I can't find it.
There are echoes of suggestion from all sides
but the outside world is now too distant
too distant to be real.
I'm searching for a thought
for that's all I have left
a thought that can open up the way.
Open up.
Up! Open up!
Then a fuzzy coolness enters my raging hate.
Whom do I hate?
of course
But who is self?
It is the self of now?
I was all right until all this sinking began.
Who was doing the sucking that caused the vacuum?
Who turned me inside out?
Who was kicking whom?
Who was making who suffer?
Who is suffering?
Who else is suffering?
Who the hell else is suffering?
Those echoes are becoming less distant.
He is real; so is she;
and they;
thank you sir; yes mam; excuse me; 'd love to.
There are echoes from the inside now
but they are too distant to be real.
Ahh! a deep breath
a heart beating with vitality
a smooth unnoticed swallow
too distant to be real
too distant to be heard.

Bob Komives :: Fort Collins © :: Depression :: ,0x06

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