He slides open the screen, and walks into the breezeway, breathing heavily. After four weeks in rehab, Dad is home. He glances to the left, into the bedroom that is no longer strewn with dirty clothes and dishes. It’s unrecognizable. Discarded jeans have been replaced with fresh flowers, and a the smell of paint lingers in the air.
He doesn’t step in; doesn’t take a moment to consider the hours spent lovingly reconstructing his world that was in disarray. Instead, he yells a hello to his mother, sitting in front of the t.v., and walks out the door into the backyard.
Lighting a cigarette is a brave move for a man who has just spent four weeks in a rehabilitation hospital for a stroke. A warning sign, the doctor’s said. A wake-up call. Even when I listened to those words, handed like a gift beneath the fluorescent hospital lights, I knew they were false. Don’t hope, I told myself. Don’t build it up.
In the eight years since my father’s mental breakdown, I have run the gamut in terms of the effort I put in to his illness. Sometimes I am the dedicated daughter, stopping by daily to invite him to get out of bed and come on a walk. Just once, he shocked me by saying yes. That day we trudged through the spring mud, and jumped when a snake crawled across our path.
Other times, I try to let go; release my expectations; have none. How are you, may be a question, but I ask it without expecting a response. I become adept at holding conversations with myself, and try not to be offended when I walk in and my dad waves half-heartedly from the bed, before rolling over.
Depression doesn’t only crush it’s victims; it can crush their family and friends as well. Because if ever a disease lent itself to resentment, it is depression. It is watching a loved one slowly kill themselves. It is wanting nothing more than to scream, wake up, but knowing that that is far from that simple. It is watching Dad light that first cigarette, then another.
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