Nothing is ever right with me. As a kid, my father accused me of never being satisfied, so when I got older and mentioned this to my gynecologist, she suggested medication. I told her I felt fine – that I was only suicidal a few times a year – and this was a remarkable improvement from my childhood. She pressed on, detailing potential side effects as she expanded my insides.
She added Paxil to my daily routine and for the next twenty years I made the circuit: Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Wellbutrin, and left-over pain pills. Lexapro and a cheap bottle of champagne seemed to keep the storm at bay and I settled into life with work and writing. I took up gardening and discovered mulching is great for depression. Digging deep holes into the ground became a cure-all for anger and pruning roses was good for grief. I’d stand in the shower, dig the day out from under my nails, and watch the dirt circle around the drain, spinning, spinning, spinning.
When the days got shorter, winter pulled me inside and I wrote poems about being sad and taking pills. It was too late for me to wonder where it all went wrong – when exactly my mind began to darken and callous, but I did have the winter. I had the winter to protect the garden from the frost; and during the coldest winter I’d ever seen, I had this winter to coil up and crack open.
As I began to unravel, the winter’s first freeze crept in and my neighbor’s pipes began to burst. They carted out carpet and foam, soggy insulation, and warped books. I crawled out of bed to drip the faucets, wrap the pipes, and chip the ice on the front porch. The neighbors smiled amidst the chaos, waving as they covered their roses and ornamental grasses with wool blankets. I waved back and wondered what kept them going on, so steady, despite the tragedy.
I had coffee by the back window, watching my garden wait for the sun, and I wondered how much more of the winter storm it could take. The orchids shriveled, the ferns began to yellow, and the roses withered. By the fourth morning, all of the plants were dead. I sipped coffee, stared at their sagging stalks, and listened to the windchime lament like a widow. The garden was still – dead right down to the core of where it began. I could have saved them – dug out wool blankets and kept them warm – but despite the medication, that dark part of me snuck out this winter, ran loose all over the house, and destroyed what it could.
I considered that I had done much worse without doctors and medication. I thought about the albino rabbits we kept fed and fat out by the back gates. The trek was long with a gallon of water, but my father never wavered on his obligation. He patched their cage when the coyotes tried their best and he doused their ears with hydrogen peroxide when the worms began to feast. Their fur was soft and slick – almost like a part of dying itself. Their pink eyes were large, piercing into me like God; and their necks were tight when my father finally retired of his duties.
Day after day, I tried to soften their stares, but they tucked in their feet and twitched at my presence. The hay I left for them was no less than that my father retrieved, but my hand was dirty, stained with the darkness of a creeping internal freeze. Their white fur was rare, divine, free of sin and self-sabotage, and so on the fourth day of the storm, my father asked,
Have you been out to water the rabbits?
I stood drinking my coffee, staring out at the dead plants, thinking about how I waited for their pink eyes to callous. I thought about my father burying them in the backyard, out by my mother’s roses. I thought about the dirt under his nails as he packed down the soil, how my mother always told him he was never satisfied, and I finally remembered where it all came undone.
C. Cimmone is an author and editor. She's alive and well on Twitter at @diefunnier.