BY REBECCA LEONARD
“Do you ever think about… you know… how it’s genetic?”
“Every day of my life,” she smiled weakly and nodded.
Annie had been living with that fear since she was old enough to understand what happened to her mom. She didn’t remember the exact moment that she learned about it. When she looked back, it seemed like her six-year-old self knew, even though that’s hard to believe. What kind of six-year-old understands depression? Or suicide?
After school Annie stayed at her grandmother’s house. Usually her mom picked her up but, this time her father, James, walked through the door. Excited to see him, Annie ran over and jumped up to give him a hug. “Hi, daddy!”
“Hi, sweetheart.” He put her down and went to the kitchen to speak with Annie’s grandparents. In an instant an uneasiness crossed throughout the house.
“What do you mean? Where is she? Is she alright?” Annie heard the sound of an address book thrown onto the table . A chair scraped, and footsteps moved quickly across tile to the wall-mounted phone.
“Please Sandy, just… don’t call anyone yet. Let her rest.” James was as calm as he could be under the circumstances. “I’m going to bring Annie to my sister’s, and then we’ll go to the hospital.”
That night Annie cried, for reasons she didn’t understand. She asked constantly where her mom was and her aunt kept telling her the same story – her mom was sick so she was at the doctor.
“But why can’t I go see her?”
“Because… because it’s the doctor for adults.” What a poor excuse, but at the time, Annie didn’t know.
Annie had no idea that during the days while she was at school, her mother, who had lost her dream job and felt useless, was at home making life-altering decisions. The second the razor hit the wrist, the pressure was released. The pain was gone, replaced with the pain from the cut. At night, she could tell her mother was sad when she was home, and that made Annie sad. Annie would try to make her mother happy, but the face staring back would respond with dead eyes. There was no life there anymore.
That night, James had come home amidst the biggest mistake Annie’s mother could have made. The cut was deeper this time. Finalizing. When he discovered what was happening and saw the damage she had done to herself, he rushed her to the hospital. Eventually, the doctors settled on electric shock therapy to help her forget why she was so depressed. With the updated technology, there should have never been any problems. Unfortunately, the doctor was incompetent, and attempted to take her memories too many times. She was no longer Annie’s fun-loving mother, but more of a vegetable who remembered nothing of her life, except for the people in it.
From ages six to eight, Annie didn't have a mother. She was in the hospital for most of that time, "getting better." "Getting better" is what all of the grownups would tell Annie when she asked where her mom was. She just couldn't understand why her mom left. When James would come home, she’d go and visit her mom and each time Annie couldn't recognize the woman before her. The skinny, beautiful woman that had left home was now well over three times that. Her stomach was no longer flat and her eyes were distant.
“What happened to my mom?” Annie asked from the backseat of her father’s pathfinder on the way home one night.
“Hun… I don’t think you’re old enough to understand.”
“I can try.”
“Maybe another time…”
That other time came somewhere in the midst of growing up with a mother who wasn’t really her mother. Daily life consisted of walking on eggshells so her mom didn’t get upset, learning patience because nothing was ever remembered, and dealing with the ridicule from other kids because something was wrong and they didn’t understand. Annie was forced to grow up too fast.
No one understood what she was going through and she never tried explaining. The embarrassment haunted her.
As an adult, she realized that she’d become a stronger person from it. She had learned, from the fear of genetics, to pinpoint when something was bothering her that needed to be talked about. Counseling was always available to her throughout her life and she used it. She prided herself on the fact that despite everything that happened to her, she never turned toward drugs or alcohol. She never gave up to prove that what had happened in her past wouldn’t ruin her.
“Yeah… I think about it. I’m terrified that I’ll follow in her footsteps and let my family down. But… I know I’m stronger than that.”