My memory on this is a bit hazy, but I think the depression started sometime in the 4th or 5th grade, which would make me about 11/12 years old. I remember sitting in my room one evening doing my homework and listening to The Cure (one of my top three favorites). I had this survival knife that my dad had given me and I was thumbing its razor sharp blade. For no particular reason, at least none that I can remember, I began to slowly drag it over my wrist.
I knew that people slashed their wrists as a method of suicide, and I certainly knew what death is (more on that later), so it’s not like I was clueless as to what I was doing. Though I didn’t put any downward pressure on the knife, it did produced a superficial slice across my wrist that bled ever so slightly. While the cut burned, it also felt good in a way. It made me feel calm, and in control.
I have some ideas about where the depression originated, but of course, one can never really be sure. I did suffer some traumatic events in my childhood but I have no idea whether they have anything to do with my depression.
The first “traumatic event” for me was probably my family’s move from California to Florida when I was five years old. My dad was Air Force officer and we had moved a couple of times already. I had a friend in San Jose named Patrick that I left behind and I remember being sad about that. My father retired from the Air Force a couple of years later, giving up a promotion, due in part because he was worried for my well-being with another impending move. So I guess that says a lot about how traumatic it really was for me, or at least my parents perception of it.
Several years later, on January 28, 1986 my first grade teacher lead our class out to the playground to watch the Challenger space shuttle launch. My elementary school was only 20 miles from the launch pad, so we had front row seats. As we stood out there on that clear, chilly day, we counted down from ten with great excitement. Soon after “blast off” we began to see the bright flames and smoke plume we all knew to be the shuttle hurling upwards toward space. Soon after, we could hear the familiar rumbling of the solid rocket boosters and could feel it shaking the ground; always such a thrill.
All of a sudden, the view transformed from one we had all experienced watching previous launches, to one of instant disaster; an “anomaly” as it was termed. As we watched the expanding cloud that signaled Challenger’s destruction, our teachers let out a gasp. Some of them began to cry, their hands shaking. I don’t remember much else from that day, except a general sense of confusion. I also remember being unnerved by the teacher’s reaction. Seeing their anguish was jarring to me. These were the people in control, the grownups, and here they were, not so in control anymore. I still have nightmares about this event, always in the theme of helplessly witnessing a plane crash. Invariably, I wake up soaked in sweat, and unable to go back to sleep for quite some time.
In the spring of 1991, I was in the 6th grade. That April day, the local news lit up with some terrible news: a boy had gone missing. Someone had seen him get into a van, with a stranger. The boy was a friend of mine. He played on my little league team. He came to my birthday parties. It was terrifying. I remember seeing his mother and father on the news, pleading for their son back. It was surreal seeing his mother, who had made cookies for our baseball team, holding back tears as she begged for her son’s life. Two days later, his attacker lead police to a half-closed footlocker that held the body of my friend. He had been raped, bound, strangled, and left just a few meters from the side of the highway.
They had a funeral for him. His parents wanted everyone to wear brightly colored clothes. Hawaiian shirts and such. Though my mother went, I could not bear it. I think I was just not prepared to face that finality of it. I don’t think I ever really dealt with that. I don’t even remember crying. Of course my parents tried to talk about it. I remember my mom giving me a sketchbook to draw how I felt. I drew a picture of the perpetrator, chained to a large tank of 100% oxygen, his mouth agape in fear as Moovenger (that was my very own comic book character – an upright cow with guns) standing there with a struck match. My feelings were of anger and revenge, but inside, it was fear I harbored. Once again, life had shown me that the adults aren’t truly in control. Bad things happen, and sometimes no one can do anything.
These events, while disturbing and traumatic for me, were not the primary source of my depression. There is another series of events that (I think) far more traumatic and go right to the heart of my depression. See you in Part Two…