Ruth Z. Deming, a psychotherapist and winner of a Leeway Grant for Creative Nonfiction, writes fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry from her home in Willow Grove, PA, suburban Philadelphia. Her prose has appeared in publications such as Creative Nonfiction, Haggard and Halloo, and Mused Bella Donna. A mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group for people and families affected by depression and bipolar disorder.
We Look Out Windows
We all look out windows. It is something we do. And then we wait for something to happen. Out my second-story window this morning in late August are my large maple trees pressing close to the house. It is folly to call them “my maple trees” for who, of course, can own a tree. But because we live on many different levels, one of those levels is ownership, and we shudder to think that if we own nothing, we will end up like Bartleby the Scrivener, a man put out on the street because he didn’t own a place to sleep.
If I were an Indian long ago I would certainly have stood on the plains in my beaded moccasins. They would have called me The Woman who Loved Trees, for so I do, or perhaps The Woman Who Loved Squirrels, for so I do. And I would have, first thing in the morning, slipped on my moccasins, while my family was still asleep, I would have been 10 years old, and peeked out the teepee to smell the fresh air and see if The Boy Who Knew Where to Find Deer was awake. I would have had two long braids. And he may have had two long braids falling on his naked chest.
What has happened outside my upstairs window is that the trees pressing against my window are losing their chlorophyll. An entire patch over on the right have turned red. There is such depth in the foliage from my window. You can sit with your warm coffee in your hand and gaze from your office chair where you sit Indian style at the layers and layers of leaves, waiting, waiting, for something to appear.
Have they deserted me, the birds and the squirrels? I only saw a robin yesterday and thought, Hurry on, with you, proud fellow, fly south with your brethren before the cupboard goes dry. We have a marvelous relationship, the birds and I. When you prepare gardens for them, and a fine flowing- to-the- brim birdbath, they will always be there. Bringing their friends with them. It is not unthinkable that they communicate to one another where the best watering places are, and they follow one another, clusters of them, tagging along in tandem, just like people do, bringing the ones we love with us, and others we don’t love but let them tag along anyway.
One day I was making myself breakfast and the phone rang. That is an example of something happening.
“Roooth!” said the voice on the other end.
“Larry, you’re back! How was your vacation?”
“Good, good,” said my psychiatrist, Larry Schwartz.
“Larry, I’m still sane!” I said.
“Knock on wood,” he said.
“Larry, I leave nothing to chance. I take my meds and knock on wood at the same time.”
By now, I had moved with my portable phone and was sitting on my front porch steps, knocking on concrete.
“Larry, what do you suppose the neighbors think of me?” I’m outside on the phone all day long whispering into the phone about manic depression and then cackling with hysterical laughter that rings all down the street. Do you think that’s normal?”
“For you, Ruth, it’s normal,” he said.
He likes me. And you better believe I like him. It’s a match made in heaven.
Last night was Poetry Night at Barnes and Noble. Remember: You can either wait for something to happen, or you can make it happen yourself.
I spent the entire day in my nightgown on the telephone or writing on the computer. Can you imagine, reader, if this were the days when I was a therapist for 8 years and went to my office in Bensalem in my flowing white nightgown and black socks to keep my feet warm?
“Oh,” Linda would mumble, when she’d see me come through the door. “Ruth, you’re wearing your nightgown under your jacket.”
“Oh, dear,” Linda. “You’ve got to help me. What shall we do?”
Linda was immensely practical. She was the kind of woman – and this is who you hire as a receptionist – that if you need an aspirin during the day you go to Linda. Or if you don’t know what to make for dinner, you go to Linda. Or if you need to complain about your boyfriend you’re living with, you complain to Linda.
And Linda would probably say something, like, “Look, Ruth, you know how to answer the phones. Sit here in your jacket and take the calls. I only live a few minutes away. I’ll bring you some of Holly’s clothes.”
“No skirts, please,” I said. “Or loud colors.”
“I know, I know.” she’d say. “Be back in five. You’ll be a whole new woman. Your clients will love you.”
Five years later I was in the neighborhood and drove over to see her at her new job.
“How’s Holly?” I asked.
“She’s graduating college and they’ve offered her a job at a television studio!”
“Oh my God, Linda. You raised one child – and you did it right!”
When I had manic-depression or as they now call it, bipolar disorder, I had it bad. Very bad. Up and down, up and down. Suicidal ideation where I wrote a suicide note to Sarah and Dan, but saved myself by accompanying my former boyfriend to horrible flea markets, which I detested, but it was certainly better than killing myself.
That was – what? – ten years ago.
And then a funny thing happened.
People do not believe me, but it’s the God’s honest truth.
My manic-depression arrived like a box car on the way to Dachau, and then it left.
I was saved.
Every day of my life I thank God or no-God. It’s one less thing to worry about.