Two days ago, we thought the heater was broken: a scent like rubber burning pervaded our morning. The repair man charged us $85 to do something vaguely mechanical, the equivalent of making sure the heater was plugged in, turned on, running in MS-DOS mode. “Nothing wrong,” he said. “Maybe it’s not your heater.”
The smell persisted, filled our house. My thumb cranked up the Plug-Ins, put boxes of baking soda behind the couch.
“Maybe it’s a skunk,” Dave suggested, stupidly naming that which I was content to pretend wasn’t happening. “Maybe a skunk sprayed the dog.”
“Shut your mouth.” I’m always, always a supportive wife. “That cannot be it.”
That was it.
Coming home late last night, I startled at a rustling in the snow-covered landscaping next to me, just outside the detached garage. That is a fat cat. … That is not a cat. I ran toward the house, and Pepe followed. I slammed the door behind me, locking it (because I’ve seen enough horror movies to know locked doors work every time). Bag tossed aside, I stood atop a kitchen chair and watched from the window, horrified as it slunk across the driveway toward the small strip of grass between the garage and the neighbor’s fence. In the summer, I can mow that strip in one swipe. Now, it may as well be Siberia: vast, uninhabitable by all except the lowliest creatures.
I do not need this, I could’ve said, except I probably do need this, the rush of adrenaline, the humor of a small animal roused from his winter rest (Lord, make it a “he,” not a “she”) in the middle of my Promised Land. I don’t let the dog out quite so freely these last two nights and mornings, since Dave suggested the unthinkable.
Before, I would stare into the sky from the doorway, waiting on the dog to finish its business.
“What’s wrong?” Dave would ask, and I’d repeat a stolen joke, The universe is expanding, which is Woody Allen shorthand for I have again this vague sense that not all is well and I can’t name it, and the sky is so big, so forever-periwinkle, so unchanging.
This is what depression feels like these days. I feel it acutely as I switch from one lead-vest medicine (picture the vest the dentist uses before Xrays; nothing gets in or out) to another, which I hope is more like a flannel blanket. I’ll be fine by this time next week, maybe, but in the meantime everything is work, horrible, hopeless, and my kids’ voices so loud. Why do they talk so loudly?
And there’s the skunk, and my heart beats so I can feel it, evidence of my own embodiment. I feel terror (comic terror); something in my throat wants to laugh. I hear Woody Allen’s Jewish mother saying, Erin, but you’re in Lansing, and Lansing is not expanding.
There’s just a skunk in the yard somewhere. Probably looking for love.
A bunch of ashes on foreheads a couple days ago remind us that this is all we have, this embodied thing; sometimes a skunk, a little melodrama, a lot of anxiety. Woody Allen’s Jewish mother.
This is it, but this is not all, not forever.
There’s the gospel in there, I’m sure of it.
I can smell it. It smells like Glade, red honeysuckle nectar. Home, hope. Sanctuary from wild beasts. That’s all I ever ask for, really.