February is the month for the blues. I use the word blue instead of depressed because I have friends who struggle with depression and I don't want to trivialize what they go through by pretending I know what it's like. My blue moods arrive when the season cracks a memory open, but they can be soothed away by a good cry while listening to Joni Mitchell and a long phone call with a friend. It's not the same as depression caused by chemicals in the brain. (I get migraines and I don't like it when people casually refer to any kind of bad headache as a migraine because really, it's not the same thing at all, and a regular bad headache is nothing compared to how incredibly debilitating a migraine can be.)
I used to think I was crazy because I would get sad on anniversaries of bad stuff that had happened to me until once I heard Adrienne Rich talking about how certain scars re-open each year. Time is like a Slinky, with seasons lined up on top of each other over the coil of each year. Right now the cold snowy February of 15 years ago is much closer to me than August of last year, when I was camping in the sand dunes with my family in the heat of Virginia. And much closer than August of this year, when I'll be heading down the Colorado on a raft for a two-week camping trip.
Past Februaries haunt me.
In February when I was in college, away from home in the coldest part of this state, I got the phone call that my sister's fiance had just died when his car went off an embankment. Another February, I looked down to see bright spots of blood on the sheets and realized that what I thought was a healthy pregnancy would end in a miscarriage. Another February, just months after a traumatic car accident, I started waking with nightmares about the accident and begin feeling panicked about driving on icy roads, anxiety attacks that were eventually diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Another February, I realized that my brother was refusing to talk to me, a silence that lasted for eight painful years. Another February, I visited my sister-in-law in the hospital in Snowstorm City, the last time I saw her before she died of breast cancer. Oh, there are other things too - some too complex to explain here - but all associated with February.
Other months of the year are filled with all kinds of happy memories. I have had an easy life compared to most people and most of the time I remember to be thankful for that. But in February, these personal scars open and suddenly, I feel flooded with all the pain and suffering in the world. I'll be standing at the grocery store, piling food into the cart, during the kind of quick run Spouse and I often do on our way home from a Saturday night date, and suddenly, I won't be able to stop myself. I'll think about children who live in fear, soldiers coming home with missing limbs, women who will have children with birth defects because of toxins in the environment, teenagers who get gunned down because of the color of their skin, animal species going extinct, lost to us forever, marshes teeming with frogs and song filled in with dirt and turned into parking lots, women who are afraid in their own homes, and leaders like our own who are filled with hate and self-righteousness.
So I'll be standing in the grocery store, in the frozen food section perhaps, and that numbness I can usually rely on to ignore all that is happening in the world will melt away, and I'll feel that tightening in my throat that makes me look to make sure no one is watching. I'll shake my hair in front of my face as I bend over to pick out frozen juice for my kids -- my own kids, warm, well-fed, healthy, safe, sleeping on the living room floor in front of the fireplace.
I've always had long hair and sometime I hide behind it. I hate for anyone to see me cry.