Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fresh Chives

The only thing harder than being depressed is trying to hide your depression from others. My mother was valiant in her efforts to do this, but since depression rolls in like a big fat tsunami, there is always some inescapable leakage. Even if she could have fooled me by entering my bedroom each morning singing “Good morning, merry sunshine!” through gritted teeth, I’d have found her out later when I saw my bag lunch.

Her sandwiches were symptoms not just of depression, but of serious suicide ideation. Indeed, if wanting to kill yourself came in a can, she would have mixed it with mayo and slapped it between two slices of rye. But since it did not, she gave me hunks of ossified chuck roast that only a rabid coyote could bite through. At that point I’d be the one who was hiding. Hiding, that is, my mother’s pathology by throwing out the suicide sandwich before even one of my classmates could see it. Sometimes it felt safer to go home for lunch. Until third grade, when she brought me the bowl of cold cottage cheese.

“Wait a minute,” she said as I raised my spoon. “I’ll get some fresh chives out of the garden.”

She dashed out the back door to pick them. My mother grew up on a midwestern truck farm where she and four sisters plucked asparagus stalks from the earth while teenage boys yelled "Sit on it, ya dirty polacks!" as they sped by in clanky jalopies. She grew up to love vegetable gardens, and to hate, in equal measure, all men.

After she snipped the chives over my bowl, I ate up my lunch and walked back to school. It was later that day, when I came home at three, that things went just slightly amiss.

“Are you feeling all right?” she asked in a quavery voice as soon I walked in the door.

I’d rarely experienced feeling all right, but not yet aware of this, I answered yes.

“How’s your stomach?” she asked.

My stomach was fine.

“Well,” she said. “That’s a relief.”

She’d been worried, she told me, about those fresh chives. After I’d gone back to school, she’d realized they weren’t chives after all, but some kind of poisonous weed. She’d been waiting by the telephone all afternoon in case the school nurse called to say I was sick. It was, she said, with just the tiniest gleam in her eye, such a relief to know that I was all right.

My brain turned into a carnival tilt-a-whirl. Phone calls, I knew, could travel both ways. Shouldn’t my mother have called up the school to warn someone that I just might barf and keel over dead? Shouldn’t she maybe have called up a doctor? One of my doctors? As a skinny asthmatic, I had about eighty.

I didn’t sleep for two years after that. Honestly, I had third grade through fifth grade steady insomnia. It was partly the chives and partly the horror movies Vincent Price kept starring in at the same time. “Premature Burial.” “The Pit and the Pendulum.” I saw them all and then spent my nights trying to come up with surefire ways to avoid—even if it was by mistake—the unspeakable fate of being buried alive.


  1. ...okay, now I'm in the mood for cottage cheese and chives.

    ...weeds, not so much.

  2. Thanks, Tanita. And believe me when I say: I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN.
    As ever,
    Ms. G

  3. Good, I like when you write everyday.

  4. Chives. . . Oh my eyes! My mother poisoned me with Alfalfa sprouts, mixed with safflower mayo and Spike seasoning. To this day I cannot stand the smell of sprouts, and will literally leap out of my chair if I am presented with them unexepctedly. Friends will confirm this behavior.

  5. Does anyone mind if I horn in for just a beat on the subject of Ms. Gonick's writing style? I think she is a marvelous communicator who makes every word count. She can take something as subjective as depression and "digitize" it into information so easily decoded by the reader. Hats off to her!

  6. I'm getting tired of waiting for the next post.

  7. I'm SO happy that you are back Ms. Gonick!! I missed your writing and have wondered what had happened to you. I will enjoy getting caught up with you again and look forward to more of your insights and wisdom.

  8. I think Ms. Gonick is amazing! I have had so many of the same experiences it's scary...yeah! she's back. Can't wait for the next post.

  9. To Mildred and Mary Ann and Sandy: Thanks so much for your zest and your faith!

  10. Ms. G is up AND writing at 8:17am! There is hope for us slug-a-bed mentals yet!