Depression is the mind’s prison, but some writers have been so gifted that they could let the rest of us know what it’s like, locked up that way. David Foster Wallace did it. I’ve read that he tried to change his medication and when it didn’t work, he went back to the old one, but it was no longer effective; he went down so fast and dark and he hung himself almost two years ago.
‘Listen,’ she said. ‘Have you ever felt sick? I mean nauseous, like you knew you were going to throw up?’
The doctor made a gesture like Well sure.
‘But that’s just in your stomach,’ Kate Gompert said. ‘It’s a horrible feeling but it’s just in your stomach. That’s why the term is “sick to your stomach.” … What I told Dr. Garton is OK but imagine if you felt that way all over, inside. All through you. Like every cell and every atom or brain-cell or whatever was so nauseous it wanted to throw up, but it couldn’t, and you felt that way all the time, and you’re sure, you’re positive the feeling will never go away, you’re going to spend the rest of your natural life feeling like this.’
I used to spend too much time in the bathroom at school, opening the third story window and sitting on the ledge. I’d look down at the tops of the school buses and imagine what my thirteen year-old body would look like splayed out. Would it bounce a couple times? How long would it take someone to notice? What if I lived, and good lord, how embarrassing would that be?
Being medicated, though, was far worse than the nearly constant zoned-out storyboarding of violent sudden demise. On meds, I knew exactly what feelings I wanted to have. I would want to be SO angry and despondent when I couldn’t go somewhere or do something or be someone else. Or I’d want to be elated, when I was successful in a class or was on the good side of an in-joke. On meds, I couldn’t have feelings. I knew they were supposed to be there, but instead I was in a numb fog all the time.
When you want to feel something and can’t, or want to feel nothing and can’t, I think fight-or-flight kicks in. People who fight, they lash out. They break things, they break relationships, they break themselves. Although it looks reckless, it’s borne of a greater, more primal urge. It’s not I Want to Die; it’s I Want to Feel [Anything But This].
The method is instructive. Violence is borne of a need to see one’s own blood; Creighton chose the quiet pillowed subsurface of the mighty Mississippi.
He could have tried to run like hell and escape it. Janette runs to her work, and now maybe she’s running to New York. LaDonna just runs anywhere her feet will carry her – the bar, her husband, her ex-husband. Chief runs straight into jail, gets out, and keeps running, sewing, working, mentoring.
And there are plenty of folks who run straight into the arms of New Orleans herself. Don’t know much about Texas Bouncer Dude, but he’s done run from Texas and hasn’t seemed to have stopped working since. It’s pretty clear Sonny, flawed as he is, was running from Holland. And they all end up in New Orleans.
It happens over and over in real life. Person takes trip to New Orleans, person discovers new dimensions of self, person relocates for good. New Orleans, our main character, the city that has lit the imagination of the world for nearly three centuries. The last refuge for America’s weirdest. The most Caribbean of cities, the US Minor Outlying Island, the surreal shimmer in the humidity. Go see the Mardi Gras.
New Orleans is, seemingly, where all the misfits escape to.
Harry Houdini had roamed the Palladiums and Hippodromes of the world encumbered by an entire cargo-hold of crates and boxes, stuffed with chains, iron hardware, brightly painted flats and hokum, animated all the while only by this same desire, never fulfilled: truly to escape, if only for one instant; to poke his head through the borders of this world, with its harsh physics, into the mysterious spirit world that lay beyond. The newspaper articles that Joe had read about the upcoming Senate investigation into comic books always cited ‘escapism’ among the litany of injurious consequences of their reading, and dwelled on the pernicious effect, on young minds, of satisfying the desire to escape. As if there could be any more noble or necessary service in life. (Michael Chabon)
I wish Creighton had poked his mind through the borders of his prison for one moment. I wish his final moments had been enough to make a life.
But for some, they are. For Davis, certainly, those moments are enough. For Kermit, they’re enough. For me, they’re enough.
The City of New Orleans, quenching our collective desire to escape. As if there could be any more noble or necessary service in life.