Back in 2004, my father was released from Harboview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. A few months prior to this, he was involved in a serious auto accident outside of Yelm, Washington. He had broken the steering wheel of his small 1980’s something pick up truck with his chest. Drove the steering column through the floorboard of the pickup. He had spent two months in a drug induced coma for his lungs to heal. I spent those two months living at the hospital. Upon his release, my family had made the decision to leave me in Seattle. It was January 2004 and was the most isolating and depressive experience in my life.
No place to lay my head. I worked and walked the streets of Downtown. Mainly stayed awake for about 7-days. I was finally able to move into the Aloha Inn Transitional housing program. There, I wrote this personal essay as a way to come to terms with what I have dealt with. Not just during that time in my life. A reflection of what I’ve felt and gone through most of my life.
I kept it close to read as a reminder. Over the years it had become lost (among other things). It was not until yesterday when I was going through a couple of boxes that I found this essay and spent time meditating upon it and reading those words I wrote over 16 years ago.
My Question – my being
A Personal essay of my bout with depression in 2004
Nothing, I silently replied. Then a thought. One simple thought that breached the empty field of my mind. Recalling an immortal phrase coined by one of history’s most renowned play writer:
To be or not to be; that is the question. This is what Shakespeare wrote.
My question – what is the answer?
Like the morning fog being burned off from the surface of a lake, the sun rises in magnificent splendor. The phrase fades with only emptiness in my mind. Nothing! I just want to scream, wandering in the dark alleys and shadows of my thoughts. They seemed to reach forth with cold bony fingers. Tugging to pull me into the suffocating darkness.
Nothing! I shout in echoing silence of my own thoughts.
No answer came. My voice reverberating off decaying walls of cinder blocks and mortar. Or, maybe it had come and I was preoccupied with the emptiness that leaves me numb. The only thing left is a barren wasteland – much like the desert. Scorching heat beating against sandy dunes. Reminds me of waves on a motionless sea. Some dunes rising high, rolling into valleys with no substance of life. A mysterious beauty all its own. Winds blowing relentlessly, shifting sand back and forth. Reshaping dunes and valleys of the desert. Maybe they are not motionless waves after all. Maybe, there is some purpose to a desert.
Again, the phrase appears in my mind, lingering like an unwanted specter. To be or not to be; that is the question. My soul groans and cries out – What is the answer? Only silence. The barren desert appears again. The warmth from the day lingers in the twilight hours. Long after the sun descended over the horizon. Only the moon glows against the velvet canopy of sky. Stars blinking in chorus for some cosmic audience. The desert wind becomes a cold talon. The desert’s friend is loneliness.
Loneliness and nothing.
To be or not to be lonely; that is the question. Could this be the answer?
To be nothing or not to be nothing; that is the question. Could this be the answer?
I am something. I am not lonely. Not like the desert. The desert has no friends. Those who traverse it do so with caution, speed and are well prepared. To be lost in the desert is utter destruction. It’s beauty drawing you in if you are not careful. I am something. Or am I?
There is still no answer. Only silence. Cold heartless silence chills me. A fatiguing recollection dances in my mind. A field of barren hostility. You were something! It chanted. You were not lonely. I push the thought back into the shadows of a decaying city that I seemed to wander through.
Another vision comes to view.
To be somebody, or not to be somebody; that is the question. I pause, dwelling on the perplexity it proposes. I am somebody. The phrase rises up from the depths of my depression. My heart and soul crying in unison from their prison. The bondage they wrestle against to be free. I am somebody! I cry out. The statement bouncing off the stillness of my mind. Silence laughed at me.
Are you? Silence comes with a different question. Shakespeare hovers over his grave. Are you somebody? The question presses against me. Suffocating me. Shakespeare holds a dark cloak against me.
Yes! I am somebody. I yelled, yet my voice muffled against the thick fabric.
Who? A different question. Shakespeare is silent. Asking me as the heavy cloak peels away from me. Chains bound me. The metal is cold as it constricts like a boa.
Who? I repeated the question.
Who are you? A momentary pause. If you are somebody, then who are you? Another question. It felt like a sword put to flames and then searing as it sliced through my flesh. Burning with a nauseating stench. Silence encroaches again. Cold brooding silence as the wound becomes a scar. A reminder.
To be or not to be; that is the question. Shakespeare’s ghost appears again. Chains no longer hold me captive. Cloak is no longer in his hands. He is dark with a red rose in one hand and a white rose in another. One for purity and the other for love.
What is the answer? I asked. A circular argument of reason. Once again the desert floods the landscape of my mind. The stifling heat burning against my flesh; thirst parching my throat.
No answer came.
Nothing! I repeated. No one was there. A heavy sigh escaped my trembling lips.
No one? But, you re someone. Were you not? The question settled upon me like a brooding cloud hanging over the land. Dark and full of anger. There was no answer that would come to my lips.
I am no one. I am nothing! I sighed heavily with resolve. The interrogation flogging me with leather tentacles. Striking and ripping my flesh. My body numbed and craving death.
I am nothing. I am no one! I yelled in pain. Shakespeare and the desert are vanquished from my thoughts.
Alone somewhere and yet nowhere at the same time. It was here that I felt the rain. A soft drizzle at first. My eyes open to a misty grey day. The drizzle giving way to a steady downpour.
You are someone. The unrepentant thought crossed my mind. The words roaring like thunder. Storms. The grey sky brightened in a series of electrified white over the city. Thunder roaring with each flash. A storm was brewing. Are there storms in the desert?I asked. There was no answer to my question.
The desert gave way to the sea. Rolling and motionless dunes of sand became liquid rising and falling in waves. The sea was breathing with white caps of fury. Each wave rising in anger and slapping against the ship. The crew long abandoned her. Tall white sails bulged against the gusts of wind.
The ship rose and crashed as the sea breached the railings and water rushing across the wooden deck. The vessel groaned and creaked with mournful cries. No one is manning the helm of the ship! I weakly protested. Lightening licked across the sky like an angry god. The iridescent flash contrasted against the velvet blackness. Illuminating brooding clouds that reached down and kissed the rising sea with deadly and poisonous contempt. Thunder roared its blood curdling battle cry.
You’re somebody – to be or not to be; that’s your question!
Shakespeare’s ghost stands at the bow of the ship.
I’m nothing! I’m no one! I cried out. Thunder clapped with anger. I’m now cowering in the corner of the ship. Like a scolded and abused child. Do you see me? Wide-eyed, scarred and naked? My knees pulled tightly too my chest. Arms hugging them.
Nothing. Loneliness gives way to fear and dread. Death’s breath upon the nape of my neck. Whispering deadly and eternal dark secrets in my ear.
Storms. Remember the storms. The voice was no longer ominous. A soft breeze in the bowels of my heart. I remember. What about the storms? The question unfolded in my thoughts.
Storms. Remember the storms?
The question was persistent. My response silenced.
The ship and the dark sea disappearing, vanishing from my vision. Storms, came a soft whisper. Again, the sky flashed and roared angrily. Yet, the sea subsiding and calming. Rain started falling from the pregnant clouds.
No longer was I on the ship or the sea. I found myself standing in a spacious field. The meadow stretched before me with green vegetation. Centered in the field was an ancient oak tree. It stood against the storm. Majestic and barren. I hear it growl in a low grumbling tone. It beckoned me closer.
My child, please come. I hear it calling.
To be or not to be…Shakespeare again. His spirit stood under the canopy of the oak tree. her branches swayed with the strong wind. Leaves fluttered like a million butterflies in whispered choral music. I found myself beneath the branches. The wind grew stronger, the rain fell heavier. Yet, I found peace and comfort. Dry and protected. I reached out in trepidation, wanting to touch the oak tree. The trunk aged and ancient. Scarred; thicker than I had seen any tree. Lightening reached down from the angry clouds like a whip, striking the majestic oak tree. The wood crackled and exploded. Echoing in the storm. Fire sparked and engulfed the tree. The rain kissed away the flames. Thunder shouting in anger and displeasure. Yet, I felt safe under the boughs of the oak tree.
Storms. The thought flashed in my mind. I remember. Storms make trees seek deeper roots I shouted out in joy.
To be or not to be; that is the question. Shakespeare’s spirit stood in front of me smiling.
To be or not to be; that is my question. I thoughtfully smiled back at Shakespeare. His spirit vanishing. So also the lonely oak tree. The field no longer captivated my thoughts. Even the barren desert no longer plagued me.
I found myself back on the ship. Her sails were tattered and torn. There were no more threatening waves. No more storms. There was a calm wind softly kissing against the sails.
Nothing. I muttered contently. Waves rose and fell like a woman’s bosom when she breathed. A summer breeze carried sweet-tangy salt on her wings. Azure sky ostracized the dark evening. I was at the helm of the ship. Up there, on the horizon, do you see it? Shakespeare standing and smiling.
Answer the question. I thought. To be or not to be; that is my question I paused, allowing the statement to warm my soul before answering. I am the captain of my own destiny – that’s who I am, I am somebody. The answer became my beacon of light as I saw the lighthouse. Up on the coastal lands. The harbor beckoning me to return safely. I am finding my way safely home.