I have climbed so far down the rope that the end is in sight. Okay maybe I didn’t climb, maybe I slipped, ignoring the searing rope burns until there was nowhere farther to fall. Rock makes a stable foundation but an unpleasant cushion. I look up and the beauty of the sky mocks me; light blue, littered with fluffy clouds, so soft-looking but so destructive when they choose to be. Do clouds make decisions in my world? Flightless birds—what’s the point of that? What is a bird but a creature that flies? No scientist I but still, birds fly and that’s the end of it. This started as a suicide note but has become a Piece.
Depression is not a soft gray cloud that follows me around making me sad, like in the commercials. It’s not like the imaginary animated baby vampire bat I used to blame when I came home from the supermarket with junk food and candy.
Depression is more like trying to rescue a hysterical person from drowning as they unconsciously do everything they can to stop me from helping them. One moment their hands are pulling at my neck, then covering my eyes in total panic as I try to swim forward. They claw mindlessly at my skin under the salt water and I scream in pain. For a moment I can see but I can’t tell if what I’m seeing is real. Am I underwater? Am I dying? Is that me? Why am I trying to drown myself? For moments, the scratching and grabbing stops, I swim calmly forward carrying myself on my back, then the half-dead me panics again and my hands cover my nose and my mouth. The sequence repeats, cancels out all other thought patterns. I am doing this to myself.
Knowing this about my depression is freeing. The fact that I’m I control of my behavior, thoughts, and feelings is new and exciting. But when I’m in depression’s calloused grip, most of the time it’s impossible to see that I’m the one who is drowning and I’m the only one that can save me. Today is a day is a day. Not a rose but a day and sometimes I can make the best of that, sometimes not. When I am able to get past the out-of-control fear, I see the world, the greed and cruelty and lack of compassion that surrounds us all, and wonder if perhaps the pain inside is better.
My father the antiquarian, the writer, the hater of modernity, had this phrase he used to say that I am so constantly driven to repeat when I feel sorry for myself.
For the rich, they sing.
Everything sends this message—that having money makes all your dreams come true. Though the fact that it can’t buy you love tends to end in accidental opioid overdose, at least you die in an expensive hotel with a beautiful view. I always found it ironic that my dad said this, considering that by most measures he himself was rich, and I assumed it was a quote from, God knows, Samuel Beckett or someone like that. So the other day I decided to look it up and I couldn’t find it. “For the rich they sing” was not a quote from an obscure play. Something in the search results caused me to search for it as the punchline of a joke, and there it was. The joke can be told a million different ways so I’m gonna go with this.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were walking through the gardens at Versailles.
A bird pooped on Liz’s head.
Dick said, “For the rich, they sing.”
You can replace Liz Taylor with Angelina Jolie, Dick with Brad Pitt and Versailles with Beverly Hills. You can replace literally any part of the joke with anything else as long as a bird poops on someone’s head and the response is “For the rich they sing.” I used old movie stars because I imagine that’s how my dad would tell the joke, the underlying punchline being that the people in question don’t think of themselves as rich.
Many people believe that when a bird poops on you, good luck is coming. Perhaps because you have just had the minor bad luck of a bird pooping on your head, your Instant Karma will provide something better soon enough. Like the time the guy stole my knapsack off my back lowered the odds of my being mugged at gunpoint—it has so far, anyway.
This is not a piece about birds. This is a piece about point of view and it’s almost over. Life is about how you feel after the bird poops on your head. Is your day ruined? Do you laugh? Or do you climb back up the rope, wash your hair, and write an article about bird poop? The choice is yours. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta poop, and we all have to deal with the shit as best we can.