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January 25th, 2014 - Carol-Lynn Marrazzo


My journal entry for January 25, 2014, reads: “One of the great things happening this month is the timber work we’re having done. They’re finishing up now and I see the sun! Stunning!” By then, my husband and I had been living in our home for nearly forty years.

 

My husband and I had bought an unfinished house in New Hampshire, a standard three bedroom ranch a young couple built and were just finishing up when they divorced and wanted to sell. Backwoods plain, the house was stained dark brown. The garage had a dirt floor. The yard was a patch of mud. The house’s most unique and unignorable feature was dozens of uncleaned cages left in the basement where they’d raised chinchilla.

 

One of only five on the steep, dirt road, our house sat back from a tumbled-down stone wall, relic of earlier sheep farms, fields now of overgrown pine, oak, maple and birch. Tall spruce surrounded and shadowed the property all day. Still, the house was what we could afford and a short drive to work for both of us. We loved the quiet, the privacy, the woods, the almost complete lack of traffic.

 

We were property owners! Young, sunny can-do optimists prepared to work. The ground around the house was always wet from runoff, a breeding ground for black flies in spring and mosquitos in summer. We decided a little landscaping would do the trick and cleared scrub, a few trees, and planted conservation mix grass seed. The modestly sized clearing got light enough to grow a small vegetable garden and accommodate a picnic table, some lawn chairs and a hammock. The blood sucking insect population seemed cut in half. When our first son was born, we added a swing set and sandbox. Fifty feet north of the house a stone wall perpendicular to the road bordered a thick stand of spruce that blocked sun and sky. We’d have liked to have thinned out the spruce, but this project was too big and expensive for us to handle.

 

Our sunny, can-do optimism was no match for Mud Season. In March, rain and snowmelt warmed the frozen ground from the top down. The road became brown muck crisscrossed with deep ruts and collapsing road shoulders. Every mud season, knee-high water got trapped against our foundation and our basement flooded.

 

We grew to expect basement floods and unnavigable roads in mud season, blackflies in spring, mosquitos in summer, shoveling snow and slippery driving in winter. When our second son was born, he and my husband shared my husband’s home office: desk, phone and file cabinet in one very small room with a rocking chair, crib and changing table. We thought about moving, but, crazy kids we still were, my husband and I still loved where we lived, and so we hired builders who tore the roof from our house to build a second floor, three bedrooms and a bath. I’d hoped the second floor might have some natural light. Looking out of our new, second-floor window, I could see Killington Mountain forty miles to the west. At the other end of the house, spruce still blocked the eastern sky.

 

At this point we couldn’t afford to enroll two children in daycare, so I worked at home. It was hard: two boys, four and under, a husband working sixteen-hour days, seven days a week, building a business, and me working on my graduate degree. Every year around the time we turned the clocks back to Eastern Standard Time, I struggled, constantly bone-weary tired, my goal simply to make it through the day. I knew it was the lack of sunlight, 24/7 demands of two young children, work, the isolation of living on a dirt road in the woods. I knew it was depression. But there’s depression and there’s Depression. I knew that come spring I’d be pretty much fine, and I was pretty much right. Every year.

 

I began to dread November and what it brought: exhaustion and moods, even mild, hopefully manageable depression. My primary care physician said I was an “earth mother” and prescribed an SSRI—selective serotonin uptake inhibitor. The meds helped. Sure, I was an “earth mother” type, but I was also a dedicated pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps kinda gal. I was determined to beat these pesky seasonal moods and blues.

 

Our business grew. Summers were our busiest season, so we bought an unfinished house on a nearby lake and spent whatever time there we could with our boys. Even after they were grown and gone, my husband and I continued to live at the lake in summer. We occasionally invited friends for dinner, drinks and cigars on the deck. (I was told cigar smoke keeps mosquitoes away.)  Most out-of-town houseguests visited during August. After dinner we’d go outdoors for fresh air and drinks—and cigars—and if the night sky was clear, the first thing every first timer to the lake said was nearly the same. “The sky’s so dark! And look at the stars! The Moon! We don’t see anything like this where we live!” Starstruck, we called them. Mid-August, we’d watch the showy Perseid meteor showers. My favorite was a full moon, a sweet cream moon that rose above the hills on the opposite side of the lake, grew large and round and created a shimmering gold path across the water that stretched to the very end of the lake. When we closed up the lake on Labor Day, I took home with me the summer moon, totem and protector.

 

Fall 2013 we made plans to take care of unfinished business at home: the field above our house, those sky-scraping spruce that blocked sunlight and prevented new tree growth, the water that streamed down the naked forest floor and flowed downhill to the house and road and turned the road into unnavigable mud every March. We hired a forester to do a pasture cut of the field—a cut that leaves healthy trees standing—and a dirt man to direct runoff, building a reliable channel to nearby Great Brook, part of the natural watershed. By the time I wrote that January 25, 2014 journal entry, the timber work was nearly done, and sunlight shined on the entire field, the winter-bare trees. The east-facing side of our house was bathed in morning light, the west side, in afternoon light. We now saw the moon rise and set. I was so happy. My days spent suffering the winter blues were over.

 

Saturday night, June 9, 2017, my husband came into the bedroom and said something like, “We Won! The Corvette Club just phoned and said we won the Corvette raffle. We won the Corvette!” He was ecstatic. I didn’t care. I just wanted to go back to sleep. At the car dealership a few days later, we had our photo taken standing like wedding attendants beside the blue Corvette. I didn’t want to be there, didn’t even care that he traded the Corvette for the heavy-duty pickup he needed. I didn’t feel anything.

 

I realized I hadn’t felt anything in months.


I met a few days later with my primary care doctor and worked to explain that I’d had trouble with moods most of my life and hadn’t needed more than the mild SSRI she prescribed, then told her about the Corvette, and my numbness. My persistent numbness. “Yes,” I agreed when asked if I hadn’t been better for a while. “But sometime, I really didn’t know when, I crashed. Hard.” I sobbed and explained that I tried to beat it the way I always had, tried to pull myself up by my bootstraps, but my pull myself up by my bootstraps business no longer worked. I didn’t tell her I’d never wanted a therapist, felt stupid and embarrassed that now I did. I knew that much; I knew I wasn’t going to get well on my own and asked for a list of local therapists.

 

Lucky. That’s what I was. I’d waited a dangerously long time to ask for help, but my first meeting with this therapist pretty much persuaded me we could work together. We met several times a week and after a few weeks she wondered if the meds I was taking were doing the job and suggested I meet with a psychiatrist who could prescribe the meds I might need now. So, I did, and after a while I grew able to hear—to process—things my therapist said and right at the top she agreed that depression can run in cycles, even seasonal cycles, but added there might be some other things I want look at, too. I didn’t want to. “Other things” whatever they were, were what had made me avoid therapy. In the end, we worked together more than five years, through my husband’s heart attack, Covid, my brother’s death from Covid, and later some minor but pesky troubles. I’m grateful she’s “left the door open” and encouraged me to touch base anytime I feel the need or desire to talk. I still see my psychiatrist briefly but regularly as my worst depression continues to be cyclical, beginning October and November when the days grow shorter, and my meds must be adjusted.

 

I’ll always be a green grass, love-those-long-warm-summer-days kinda gal. I love the unparalleled sunrises and sunsets here where we live, skies that inspired paintings and illustrations by artist Maxfield Parrish. I don’t know if I’m ever happier than I am when I’m “napping” in the hammock, listening to my grandchildren and their friends play in the water or sandbox. But I’ve learned I must be vigilant and respect the effect fall and winter have on me. I get particularly stressed late-November, dealing with everything work and life throw at me and difficult memories of the more than twenty years both my parents were ill with emphysema, when we drove to Long Island to spend Christmas with them, my brothers and sister… persistent memories now more than forty years old. But rather than futilely trying to forget the past, today, when I struggle in winter, I seek solitude rather than hide. There is a difference. And if the Farmer’s Almanac says there’ll be a full moon and clear sky Christmas night, you can bet I’ll be outdoors with my dogs to watch moonrise, the silver sphere rising above me making snow on the ground sparkle, silvering the frost on leaves.

 

 




Born in Brooklyn and raised on New York’s Long Island, Carol-Lynn and her husband raised their family in New Hampshire where her children went to New Hampshire schools, and she taught in local schools and at a community college. She earned a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degree from Dartmouth College and an MFA in Writing from Vermont College.


Carol-Lynn’s fiction has appeared in The Louisville Review and The Nebraska Review. Her essay "Show AND Tell: There’s a Reason It’s Called Storytelling" has been published in both Writer’s Digest and the anthology What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. Most recently she’s been working on creative non-fiction, specifically essays and personal stories, forms that seem to suit her.

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