Under the Weather – Erin L. Cork [Essay]

Under the Weather 

The news flashed across the Internet: Frightened Rabbit lead singer-missing,
family concerned about his state of mind. They found Scott Hutchinson’s body
putting an end to desperation but the beginning of grief stages for those who loved
him. Josh Ritter says “Only the living go to the graveyard grieving.”

I’m writing this on another day where grey and rain flood my town. The
rivers and creeks have spilled over into the streets, invaded homes and drowned
schoolyards in muddied waters. It’s the kind of curl up day, on the couch, in a
corner, in the fetal position where even hope struggles to reel you in, pull you
towards dry land.

I’ve known depression. I’ve embraced it, loved its familiar skin, sang sweet
words as I recognized the familiar, heavy steps heading towards me, “Hello darkness
my old friend…”

I may have been five when I let it touch me. I sat on the wood floor, leaning
against my parent’s bed. A breeze lifted the sheer lace curtains. Sunlight and
shadows flickered like finger puppets playing off of each other. A statue of the Virgin
Mary sat on a doily at the top of a corner bookshelf, her head cast in repose but I felt
her glances.

I have no idea where my mother and father were but at least one of them had
to have been home. The sensation of solitude, not of self but aloneness settled on
me, covered me in a blanket of monochrome. I didn’t have the word for despair but I
knew it then and I would recognize it every time thereafter.

I’d see it enter a room as I reached desperately for connection. It was jealous
and significant, unwillingly to share. I’d wake to it sitting on the edge of a stranger’s
bed or feel it burrow between the sheets of a lover. It would nod its head at the bar
at a reunion. It domineered, clutched and grabbed, pulled me from the tongue of joy,
the arms of affection. I would learn guilt and shame from our involvement. It was my
dirty secret.

Over the past decade I have had an on again, off again relationship with its
sibling anxiety. At first I ignored it, choosing the company of the mysterious over the
hyper-nervous which I found a way to quiet with alcohol and denial.

Unfortunately, it found a way in. Now it makes demands. It has me holed up.
It refuses me companionship. It locks the door, makes me stay home with it instead
of socializing. I fought back hard when it wouldn’t let me go to one of my oldest
friend’s birthday celebration. So many people I love and care about, that I have long
histories with were there. But Anxiety won and I spent the evening listening to it
whistle 15 versions of Auld Lang Syne.

Florence and The Machine “Shake it Out” echoes: “I can see no way, I can see
no way, and all the ghouls come out to play, And every demon wants his pound of flesh,
I like to keep my issues strong, it’s always darkest before the dawn…”

Scott wrote and sang about his battles with mental illness. I believed this
helped him “Wait ‘Til the Morning”. I recognized the war. I’ve waged it for a
lifetime. There are days when success has meant moving from the bed to the sofa.
The moments where the sun warmed my face on a mountaintop and a flag of
triumph replaced surrender or defeat held me for weeks or months. I dared
sometimes to consider that I had conquered. But it is a devious and sneaky foe. Like
a fog it settles in, hiding the summit, misting the way up and out. Sometimes I’ll
walk right into it and find that I can get above it. Other times, I get lost in it.

I’ll go for long periods where I feel well, fortified, invincible. And yet, it finds a
way to enter and hold a knife to my throat. The impulse to hide the breach is hard
wired. It is mortifying to even think about reporting the intrusion. I stand up
straight when my skin and bones feel tired and worn. I laugh and smile, joke about
the impulse eating, spending, Netflix binging as if I didn’t feel the weight of shadows
smothering and choking the breath from my chest. It is my struggle, the thrashing
and grasping for survival. For some reason I still find a reason to fight back while
keenly aware that there may be a moment when I let go.

As a teenager, I kicked open the bathroom door where love lie bleeding on
the floor, held my mother until the paramedics came. I waited outside the sterile
locked psych ward until she said yes, “Let her in.” Someone was screaming down
the hall, a piercing cry for release. I was terrified, trembling as I approached her
room—somewhat relieved to find that it wasn’t her wail shaking the walls.

I can’t remember if it was days or weeks later when my mother was finally
willing to see me. That time is a blur. The flowers in her room wilted in PeptoBismol
colored urinals, no glass allowed. She said, “I don’t want to come back.” I
understood that her resignation, her anger with me was because I had saved her;
that I had selfishly wanted her to live.

I thought of a conversation she and I had. Again, I’m unsure of the timing but
she and I were discussing the scene in The Big Chill where Glenn Close breaks down
grieving in the shower. I told her how it stayed with me, it was moving, haunting
even. As if I should know this she said, “All women cry in the shower.”

It was an insight. I wasn’t quite a woman. So, I had no idea. I hadn’t even
considered this. Seriously, up to that point I had little understanding of tears, their
origins or untimely arrivals. I fought hard to get control over them, as the weakness
I felt in their power was unacceptable. I had tried to use them as a weapon and
failed miserably. I found little use for them. Eventually they refused to come at all.

Now, they surface during the Olympics, Coke and Budweiser or soldier
commercials. Or last week when I binge watched, Dear White People, the aftermath
of Reggie being held at gun point and again after Troy broke the window of the
locked hall door and was hauled away, his stoic father shouting, tears running down
his face, “That’s my son, don’t shoot, that’s my son.” I cracked.

I inherited the short, sturdy frame, large breasts, and the love of trivia,
language, and music, as well as Celtic broodiness from my mother. My sister would
take the mental warpage to a deeper level. While I was the one most likely to
succeed that she had to follow, she beat me to death in self-destruction. I’m not
brave enough to go where shock treatment and institution are required.

My addictions pale in comparison to what she has done. I even beat a couple
of them into submission. She inherited the beauty, the head turning features. She
sent them to the grave early and became the walking dead, unrecognizable now. I
believe in zombies because of her.

Anne Sexton wrote in The Big Boots of Pain, “…I would sell my life to avoid the
pain that begins in the crib with its bars or perhaps with your first breath when the planets drill your future into you for better or worse as you marry life and the love that
gets doled out or doesn’t…”

The National is one my favorite bands, they are deeply connected to Scott
Hutchinson and Frightened Rabbit. Aaron Dessner produced their latest album
“Painting of a Panic Attack”. I’m thinking of the National song “Sorrow” as I write
this, the verse: “Sorrow found me when I was young. Sorrow waited, sorrow won,
Sorrow, they put me on the pill. It’s my honey it’s my milk…” swirls through my head.

In my first days of sobriety, there was fear that I wouldn’t survive. I was
prescribed Nortriptyline, which just made me sleep, then Prozac and something else
that numbed me into compliance. I wandered through days, weeks and months
without emotion. I really didn’t want to live without feeling, even if it might kill me.

I heard something in Frightened Rabbit that I understood, a place of refuge,
solace. Words of hope that I knew Scott Hutchinson wrote in the hold and the
morning after. The peace came in his voice, knowing that he’d his found his way
there as I had before. I know the feeling as the sun slices through a dark room. The
moment when “Still, I rise…” I’m here, torn and tattered but not broken.

I don’t recall spring being this wet, this cloudy, not like this. I think of
Hutchinson’s words again –“What’s the blues, when you’ve got the greys?” I tire of it
easily now and long for warmth and light. It helps. I know this when I’m in the damp
cold place. It kneads its chilly fingers under my skin. I shiver under its touch,
longing for heat and endless sky, wanting “that the world might be a more colorful

I acknowledge that August will have me wishing for a cloudburst. The fires
will start, the smoke and heat suffocating. I’ll be humming Ryan AdamsIn My Time of
Need, “…Will you say to me a little rain’s gonna come when the sky can’t offer none to

Music, words –writing they have been my release. They find what’s missing
and put the pieces into place. They have given me reason, shown me how, held me
while staring at a shaving of the moon at 0400 AM through the shades of morning
lifting above the foothills. They’ve kept the light on.

Experience tells me when I’m there that it will pass, like a stomach bug or
head ache. I know now that another day will bring the words to the page, a
mountain peaked, a deep kiss. I didn’t know this when I was young and I’d push
towards death at alarming speeds. I’d leave stories unfinished, wishing for ends,
believing myself incapable of completion. They were leaves covering the body.

The throes of despair are so much weaker these days. They still pop in for an
unexpected visit. My surprise is evident, I sigh and ask them in. I don’t offer them
spirits anymore, maybe something sweet. I ask them to sit and rest but I refuse to lie
down with them. Up until now, I have found my way to day light, moved past what
Scott referred to as the “ugly side of midnight…”

When someone who is so outspoken about their struggles who thus far has
survived and raised their fists to each new sunrise succumbs and takes the hand of
the reaper it is startling. It rattles me and reminds me that it could be me. I realize
that I’m not ready. I am unfinished. Aren’t we all? There is still so much to do. How
do we complete a life?

by  Erin L. Cork


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