the year I turned fourteen

In addition to my other numerous acquaintances, I have one more intimate confidant… My depression is the most faithful mistress I have known — no wonder, then, that I return the love
— Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or: A Fragment of Life

the grief companion.jpg

I've journeyed with depression since my teenage years. I remember feeling waves of despair and lethargy as young as fourteen. I remember my mother not understanding me and certainly not understanding depression. In her mind, depression was a choice. I remember when the gray companion came to visit for the first time. Right now, in this moment of remembering, it all makes sense. 

The year I turned fourteen, my life imploded. It began one of the first days of January with my mother shaking me awake in the dark of an early, early morning. She told me to get up, that my step-father had something to say to me. Still groggy with sleep, I shuffled into the living room and sat on the couch, listening but barely comprehending as he told me that he was leaving. He was leaving and she had forced him to face me before he left; forced him to tell me himself. I think I mumbled OK and maybe I hugged him before I shuffled back to my bedroom, to spend the next few hours sobbing until it was time to leave for school. Yes. I went to school that day. I told my favorite teacher but no one else. I was still in shock. 

My broken hearted and angry mother had no space for anything but trying to make it through her own nightmare and figuring out how to financially support herself now. She hadn't worked outside the home that entire marriage of ten years. She was forty-five years old. Starting over. She was in survival mode and that didn't include being able to see that anyone else needed help. I was a confused thirteen year old girl, coming of age, abandoned to the stories in her mind. 

That was my last year at the private Christian school I had been at since second grade, the school I had expected to graduate from. I remember that too felt like a betrayal. Another aftershock of this disaster that shook me from my innocent slumber. There was lots of talk about where I would be going to school. I didn't want to go to my assigned high school. I think there were some attempted schemes to get me in someplace else that didn't work out.

The day my mother told me, just after my fourteenth birthday, that I would have to go to the high school in my district, I took off out the door. I just needed to go, to run, to find sanctuary. Does it matter what I was wearing? Why is that part of the story in my mind. The shorts, the tank top, the sneakers. It was summer. I was dressed appropriately. I ran to the community park three blocks away. I sat on the swings searching for pieces of my childhood. Searching for what I had wanted it to be. My heart and my mind were swirling through the turmoil when he approached. Talking to me, asking me about my sadness, paying attention to me, treating this messed up homely red-haired, four eyed girl as is if she mattered. When he leaned in to kiss me on the swings, this stranger, I didn't resist. 

Let's fast forward past the hardest details, OK?

Just moments later, I stumbled out of the nearby woods a victim of sexual assault, of rape. I walked home, cleaned myself up, and I never told my mother. I didn't tell anyone. Because I had asked for it. I had gone there. I had talked to him. I had allowed him to kiss me. I had been raped, yes, but it was my fault. I was forty-five years old, the year that my youngest daughter turned fourteen, before I realized that it wasn't. It wasn't my fault. 

The day after my assault there was a horrible car crash killing six students from a local high school. I didn't know any of them though I may have known some of their friends. Still, I was devastated. Everything I had known and thought life was supposed to be had been ripped from me that year. Parents were supposed to stay together. I was supposed to choose when and how to have sex. Teenagers were supposed to live ... and live ... and live. 

Is it any wonder that she showed up that year, my gray companion? I didn't call her that then; it was decades before I softened to her presence and what she could teach me about living just through the struggle of staying alive. There were times that she nearly choked the life from me. There were years that she didn't show up at all but she has been a constant companion for forty years. 

I didn't sit down this morning to write about 1978, the year I turned fourteen. I sat down to write about grief and how she has become my companion now as well. Grief is not the same as the grey companion but she needs the same softness. That is what I wanted to write about and I will. another day.  These words today have been a soft balm to my heart. It is difficult to remember that year but remembering that as the time my gray companion came to me expands my understanding of her.