The Blind Eye of Depression

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Life can feel unwieldy sometimes and I find myself in my personal and professional world, conscious of the importance of not bearing the weight of that alone. It takes courage to say you need help and it takes equal courage to recognize when someone’s suffering may be too weighty to hold. On September 14th a man that I had only known for three days through his stay on my land, shot and killed himself. Though I recognized through our interactions that he was navigating sadness and disillusionment around his purpose in life, I would never have thought that this would be the outcome. My middle daughter Wrenna was with me when we found him. The experience was more difficult than I can fully articulate, but writing has helped me to navigate the complexity of my own suffering as I heal from the impact of the experience.  Whatever the cause of suicide, one thing I do know is that we need to begin bringing conversations around mental illness, lack of belonging, and desperation into the light. Shame keeps us separate. Compassion, education and honesty are necessary in the actions we take in our families and communities around our mental well-being. The questions I ask of myself around Caleb’s death are anchored to my sorrow that in the midst of his experience of life, it was clearly impossible to see past his own suffering into a future that would be bearable. Writing this poem has become for me a way to hold something that has been difficult to handle and I’m sharing it with the hopes that it will not only bring connection and conversation, but that it will usher my own impulse to be a part of the healing that is necessary to cultivate a deeper sense of understanding overall. 

 

Caleb

It’s a gamble,

welcoming strangers into your life.

He would be staying for three days.

 

Three

an auspicious number.

Three sides to a triangle, 

three days from crucifixion to resurrection.

Three, the number of good fortune,

of past, present and future.

of birth, life and death 

 

One

We talked just short of an hour.

His smile was shadowed with sorrow. 

His composure, a kind of pliable sturdiness, 

a notably resigned strength.

 

Two

I brought him eggs,

he stood, 

met my hug 

a smooth chuckle,

lonely comfort. 

 

Three

I had come to know enough about Caleb 

to recognize that his intelligence 

was both academic and soulful.

He was troubled by

why belonging evaded him.

 

For me

Caleb’s presence 

had a noble weight to it.

 

On the morning of his departure 

he said that he would leave before dawn. 

Sun rising

I gave a sideways glance

at a respectful distance.

He must have fallen asleep 

in the soft morning light outside. 

I wondered if he had stayed 

to say goodbye.

 

I think I wanted that.

 

I chose not to wake him,

walked quietly towards

outdoor chores with my daughter 

to beat the full heat of the sun 

and work the land.

 

It was a sweet

simple morning.

I pulled foxtails out of my socks.

She and I 

settled into easy conversation.

A dog barked

In the distance

 

too close to Caleb. 

And then I was punched with a sinking feeling 

 

Running, 

I saw him more clearly through the trees,

Neck arched over the back of the chair,

hands resting on his thighs

tight fists 

curled,

a juxtaposition of relaxation.

 

Repulsion moved through me,

an urgent violent shake, 

a slow fierce slap to the 

first pushed clang of his name 

ripping its way through my mouth.

 

Each loud scream 

ricochet off of the rifle 

resting between his legs.

 

My daughter behind me,

rough words

gun 

blood

scuttled phrases of panic.

 

Did he know 

when he chose my land, 

my heart, 

my life,

did he know that our 

three-day connection

would be his preface to death

and with one gunshot, 

explode my world? 

 

My feet stuttered towards him, 

body tight

heavy, clenched fist of me 

hurtling forward.

My voice was underwater

loud punches of his name, 

like a reprimand,

like a plea,

were swallowed 

by the stillness of his body.

 

The gun confused me,

harnessed with a rope

like a puckered 

anchor into the center of his chest.

 

He had laid open his heart to me 

yesterday.

Now this.

Now a cold weapon used hours before

had punctured a raw

pit on the altar 

of our connection.

All to end his suffering 

and begin a ripple of pain around him.

 

Did he know

that my daughter 

would shed everything 

to get to me,

shed her fear

shed her pleasure?

 

Did he know 

our family had been traversing

over long months,

a thin path behind 

my son’s ascent from sorrow?

Days and nights 

of an uphill scramble

that was finally almost wide enough 

to step beside him.

 

Did he know this one act,

a nightmare collision of surrender

to the gnaw and ache of depression 

was the only chasm I could not bridge

in myself?

A fear I’d almost quelled.

 

Did he know that my daughter 

was strong enough for this

but shouldn’t be?

 

That the 

sirens would break our terror 

into pieces.

 

Did he know that his blood 

would pour onto the soil,

a stain that I can’t quite remove 

even after it’s gone?

That I would stand with stiff resolve

to water it in. 

 

Did he know that my daughter 

would find the right seeds,

words planted 

that were more determined 

than his bullet?

 

Our land is able to carry his pain

She said.

Our land has held more 

than we ever could.

 

Did he know her strength

her sadness?

Did he know that his careful planning 

would become 

the place she had no other choice 

but to survive?

 

What remains?

 

One

I can feel the slow way his leaving

is soaking into the earth of me.

 

Two

I can’t yet soften 

the crimson curtain of color 

that spread in a pattern like a blanket 

over the curve of his belly.

 

Three

I am drawn each morning 

to drink in the stillness 

where in his pain 

he left us,

where we surrendered 

in a different way,

where we poured his rum 

into the red soil of him,

burned sweetgrass to 

bring redemption

over sorrows blemish.

 

Caleb’s life,

an orchestration

much more complex than the few

music symbols 

that run off the page of me,

has undone me.

No easy answers.

For me, 

no beginning, middle and end.

“Caleb” written by Jaime Williams

Photo Credit Kalyja Rain Photography