A story about the girl who couldn’t stop asking, "Why am I depressed?".
‘Why am I depressed’? Summer thought, as she sat playing with her cereal at the breakfast table. Into the cereal bowl the spoon went, then mindlessly scooped out some soggy fruit loop…and clinically she let it go; the milk dripping from the spoon, and the pieces plopping into the bowl again. ‘Hardly a loop anymore,’ she thought. ‘More like sodden pieces of chalk…tastes like it too.’ And with this thought, she jerked herself up. ‘Oh god, what a depressing thought! Why am I so depressed early in the morning today’?! Then noisily she clanked the spoon onto the table and shook herself from her reverie. The clanking earned her a ruffling of the newspaper pages and her father’s quizzical expression, as if perched above the folds. His eyes spoke to her, to say ‘What is it Summer? You seem restless.’ And Summer shrugged her shoulders, forced a dry smile onto her face and exited the kitchen to leave for school. ‘I’ll walk today’. This, she thought, would do her some good. And still the cloud of depression remained cast over her, as she would soon find out.
The weather outside was balmy. The soft wind blew from the East and carried with it a scent of the summer blossoms. A lone dog followed Summer from the front fence till the street outside. The morning was rather pleasant, but Summer did not see. Her thoughts had followed her back to a foul mood, and she thought ‘Why am I depressed all the time these past few days? The more I think back, that’s all I’ve been thinking about this whole week! Why am I so depressed all the time?! Who would believe it’s my birthday tomorrow? And if this depression does not go away soon, I’ll be left asking ‘Why am I depressed on my birthday?!’ Hardly something I’m looking forward to doing.’
Her thoughts would have continued their meandering journey, had she not heard a “A-Hoy! Summer! Yuhooo!!!”, coming from the guttural voices of Mrs. Wickham. Summer looked over and found Mrs. Wickham in her patio with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, as of every morning. A bandanna kept away most of the graying hair out of her face, and the Jackie Kennedy-esque glasses were perched high above her head. For as long as Summer remembered, Mrs. Wickham had been the epitome of boisterousness. Without a care in the world, and an ‘I care a hoot’ attitude, the lady would not bother about things like etiquette, pleasantries and societal concerns. Something that was held against her quite often in society, but for exactly which, Summer loved her. They’d struck a great bond over the last year and Summer often went over to Mrs. Wickham’s to spend her time.
The ‘Yuhooo!!’ made Summer smile. Even as several faces turned to see (and comment on) the ‘uncouth woman’. Walking over, Summer sat down on the wicker chair while Mrs. Wickham poured her a cup.
“What is it dear? You don’t look so good”.
And there, Summer went donning that fake dry smile again, but Mrs. Wickham beat her to it.
“Now, now, I’ll have none of that sour puss expression on you. Tell me Honey, the more I see you these past few days – that is the only expression you’ve been wearing, as if trying to ask, ‘Why am I depressed? And all the depression symptoms are there too! Are you depressed sweetheart?”
A long drawn pause ensured that Summer spoke, “I don’t know Mrs. Wickham. That is what I’ve been trying to ask myself too – why am I depressed for no reason?”
“Ah. But is it for no reason Summer? Think harder love. Maybe there was something that set this depression about. I’ve hardly seen you out these days. Not to walk Rover…Not to play catch with Timmy..not..you get the drift? Is it your period playing the bad guy? Cause then you’ll be thinking ‘Why am I depressed before my period’! And you really shouldn’t be doing that! You’re old enough to know it’s the hormones doing that to your body and it’ll pass with the PMS.”
And while Summer tried to stop Mrs. Wickham from the ranting she had set herself on, citing reason after reason for the apparent depression that Summer was under, Mrs. Wickham was nowhere near stopping.
“Have you been drinking dear?! Gasp! Have you slipped into alcoholism?! Oh! What an absurd thought! No, I’m sure you haven’t. Forget I asked. You can never say with the kids these days, though. Although…that really does seem like something that fits my 3rd husband more, my dear. He would drink himself crazy every Saturday night and then get into one of his soliloquies. He’d ask me ‘Why am I depressed after drinking Susan, when I really should be happppy…yyy..HIC’ and I’d tell him, ‘It’s because of the alcohol, you buzzard! Silly me. The man would be snoring long before that. I don’t know why I even tried. But enough of that. Look at me running my mouth off again. Go on then dear, what is it?”
At last Mrs. Wickham stopped and Summer continued. “I really have no clue Mrs. Wickham, it’s as if I’m stuck on the Monday blues for good.”
“OK. We’ll get you out of it. There must’ve been something that sent you down this road. Think harder dear. Did someone say something to you? Did you lose something special? Did …”
But Mrs. Wickham’s voice felt as if it came from somewhere far away. ‘Did you lose something special…something special..someONE special…’ She remembered now. And the thought sent her into a tizzy…
The school corridor and 2 pairs of legs materialized before her eyes. One pair, bare and sculpted, and the other entangled within it… A week before as Summer picked up her satchel and walked out of the classroom, she was greeted by a deserted corridor. The janitor, she saw, mopped the floor at the farthest end of the hallway. ‘I wonder where Neil went’, she’d thought. Neil was usually around at the end of the day. They met up for a chat and exchanged the latest music and books. She’d started liking this ritual a lot and looked forward to it. With her thoughts on Neil, she was vaguely aware of anything else as she walked over to the water fountain for a sip. There, her book of poems slipped and fell. She bent to pick it up and that’s when she saw Neil and Leila locking lips against the lockers. Her heart hammered against her chest. Then stopped. Then continued beating hard again. She saw the legs entangled and she couldn’t watch anymore.
She ran out into the compound and carried with her the sounds of a thousand gongs beating in her head, and what felt like a huge cage around her chest. For a moment she couldn’t breathe. But she forced herself to take in long gulps of air. Then shutting out any other instincts that might have surfaced, she quickly told herself things. “Phew! What was that?! I did not need to see that! Couldn’t those two find a better place?” Then irritation and anger crept in. “Neil should’ve at least told me he wouldn’t be meeting me today, before doing that.” Then a little self pity. “I mean, of course why would he meet me when he could have that. I kid myself sometimes, ‘coz of course this is what should’ve happened.” And for conclusion – “Oh forget it! Like I care what he does…What THEY do! In fact, I don’t even remember what I just saw. What was it? And who is Neil. I don’t know any Neil….”
And the mind games had continued for a week after that. That night she could not sleep. The image kept replaying over and over in her head. Neil’s hand somewhere deep in the folds of Leila’s curly locks. Leila leaning against him, her back to Summer…and she woke up with an unpleasant feeling gnawing at her stomach. She walked over to the window and stared at the moonlit garden. A dog howled somewhere in the distance, the sycamore tree swayed gently in the night breeze. And strangely, it did nothing for Summer. A night like this would have otherwise evoked a muse, and poems would have taken birth on fresh stalks of papyrus. But alas! All Summer thought about was ‘Why am I depressed at night today? It must be because mom and dad are away visiting Nana. Yeah, it has to be that.’
The next day at school, Summer had kept to herself. Nothing Kathy said or Merle did, seemed to help.
“Hey have you seen Neil today?” Kathy asked her.
“How should I know where he is? He does not tell me everything, you know!”
“OK babe. Calm down, I was simply curious, that’s all.”
Later, she was told that Neil had to leave for Virginia to visit his grandfather, who had suffered a paralysis attack the night before.
‘Neil would have been shooting the net right now.’ She thought, 2 days later in the afternoon. Then quickly reprimanded herself. She would not think of Neil. He had texted her sometime after he had left for Virginia, somewhere on Saturday. But she couldn’t bring herself to reply. Why she didn’t know. Or had convinced herself she didn’t. The week that was to follow, would find Summer slipping more and more into depression. Her birthday was 4 days away. And all she thought about was how she just wanted to shut herself into her room. Pull all the curtains down and bundle off under her comforter, only to emerge… never! (If she could help it).
She hadn’t seen Neil for over a week now, didn’t care if he had even come back…But what irritated her most, was how Neil never managed to not leave her alone. Why was he so hell-bent on making his presence felt in every small thing of every single day? The basketball net at school, the book of poems at her desk, the wind flipping it over to page no. 244 where he’d marked the paragraph he thought she’d like best…the CD with an unsung melody that he hoped she’d love…The back of someone’s head that looked like it did when Neil brushed his hands over it…or the gurgling laughter she heard at school that day. Everywhere she went, whatever she did, Neil seemed to be with her in thoughts. She was tired of pushing his thoughts away. She realized she couldn’t do it even if she tried. She slumped mentally from forcing herself to think, then push, then think again, about his presence. And that is what she had been doing for the past week.
…That was then, and this was now and nothing had changed. Except that sitting at Mrs. Wickham’s, Summer was confounded by the most untimely revelation of all. She was forced to ask herself, even though she already knew the answer. Was she in love with Neil?! What else could explain all this? What did it mean when she did not return his countless calls and messages? And hadn’t the thought of facing him in school, once he returned from Virginia, been gnawing at her? And all those thoughts and all those things that reminded her of him. And Leila…just the name made Summer’s heart curdle. Why did it hurt to think and re-think the corridor scene? The explanation finally came, but brought with it more sadness than she could imagine. Neil did not like her back, he liked Leila. And why shouldn’t he. Leila was a catch. She could’ve had anyone she wanted. And she wanted Neil. And everyone knew…what Leila wanted, Leila got.
‘Snap, Snap!’ Two sharp clicks and Summer was back in the Wicker chair at Mrs. Wickham’s.
“Oh my, I really think you should see a doctor dear, you had forayed into another world out there. You really must overcome whatever it is you are worried about dear. Are you quite sure you will be alright?”
“Yes Mrs. Wickham. I think I finally will be.” Summer said and slipped on an extra exuberant smile. And then to herself she muttered, ‘I just need to forget and I shall be fine’.
“I sure hope so dear. It would really break my heart to see you so sad on your birthday. Go along now, or you’ll be late for school. Oh and don’t forget to come over for your special birthday cake later tomorrow. I’m making you your favorite plum cake (and then in a whisper), with extra rum because you turn 18 tomorrow…Shhh! It’ll be our little secret. That should cheer you up, oh I know – Why don’t you get that boy, what was his name dear, Neil? Yes, Neil. Why don’t you get him over too? You’re always in a good mood when he’s with you. Maybe he’ll help to cheer you up..aye?”
And with that, Mrs. Wickham got up from the chair, slipped on her shades and squinting at the sun, stepped into the garden. Summer stood rooted to the spot at the mention of Neil’s name, and then with feet that felt as heavy as lead, dragged herself to school.
“I heard Neil is back.” Kathy said to Merle over lunch. Summer almost choked on the sandwich she was eating. Thumping her back, Kathy said, “Yeah, and he seems really lost, I heard he was asking for you Summer. You should go meet him”.
Summer burst into a fiery speech – “Me? Why? Why should I go meet him? I don’t want to meet him…I…don’..” and stopped when she saw what her speech had turned their faces into – Merle looked on as though she were bitten by a rabid dog and Kathy had the solemn look of one who sees a person blabbering gibberish to themselves.
“What!?” Summer exclaimed.
“You’ve been really weird this whole week Summer. Reacting like that every time we mention Neil. Did something happen with you two?! Out with it. Something did happen, didn’t it?”
And then Kathy piped in, “Oh My God! You guys kissed didn’t you? You guys made out and now you’re all weird about it. And oh my! It’s your birthday tomorrow. We totally HAVE to invite Neil now!”
“No guys, No! You will do nothing of the sort! Neil and I did NOT kiss alright? Far from it. I don’t want to talk about this. And I don’t want a party!! Just leave me alone alright? Can you’ll do that? And I never want to see Neil again.”
And saying that, Summer got up from her chair and sped across the cafeteria. Students all over the cafeteria turned to look. At the end of the cafeteria, Summer almost slipped and would have had a nasty fall if someone would not have pulled her back. Water streaming from her eyes, Summer looked up to see Leila. Leila held her by the shoulders and pulled her up.
“Are you OK Summer? What has happened?”
“Nothing!” Summer said. “I just want to go home now”.
“Err…OK.” Leila said letting go off her arm. “Just take care of yourself”
While Summer turned to leave, Leila said to her “Oh BTW, Neil was looking for you, he’s over at the net court.”
With fresh tears in her eyes, Summer turned to Leila and burst out “I don’t ever want to see him again! Go tell your Boyfriend that! I’m surprised he has time to take out from all that kissing with you to come looking for me!“…and without waiting to hear anything, Summer ran from the school, all the way to the lake.
She came to the lake whenever she was alone. The water was always tranquil. Birds chirped and honeysuckle bloomed far and wide. She sat on a huge stone near the water surface and plopped stone after stone into the water. She didn’t know how long she was there, when one stone hit a rock near the puddle of water and bounced off somewhere. “Ow!” she heard a loud scream. She turned to see Neil holding his left eye and standing against the huge banyan tree.
“Oh god! I’m so sorry Neil, I didn’t mean to hurt you…are you OK?”
“No! I’m not! Why have you been ignoring me the past week Summer? No texts, no messages, no calls! What have I done?”
Ignoring his remarks, Summer spoke. “I was asking about the eye Neil. Is it OK?”
“Forget the eye, will you? I want to know why you’ve been ignoring me!”
“I don’t want to talk about it Neil.”
And saying that Summer got up to leave. Neil held her by the elbow and made her stop.
“No, Summer, I deserve to know! What has happened? You cannot just expect that I will believe nothing is up? Have I done something to hurt you?” Summer remained tight lipped. “Come on Summer, please tell me something. One week we are almost inseparable and then I come back and you’ve changed. I mean, I met Leila and she said you told her…”
“Stop right there Neil! What you and your girlfriend speak about is of no interest to me and I will appreciate it if you do not talk of her ever again!”
“Girlfriend?! What! Who?! Leila?!“
“Oh I’m sorry. Is she not your girlfriend? What is she? Your kissing buddy? Oh how lovely…!”
“My WHAT! Kissing?? What are you talking about Summer? What kissing?!”
“Oh please spare me the drama Neil and there is no need to sound so incredulously surprised! God, the way you say it, anyone would believe you never kissed Leila!”
(Spluttering!) “WHAT!!! When did I kiss Leila! What are you talking about?“
“OK you want to play this game? OK. I saw you Neil. I saw you on Friday evening in the corridor with her! You were all over each other. So stop this act right now. I’m sick of it…!”
“Oh come off it already Neil! Near the lockers! With your hand in her hair, your legs entangled around her! At 5 pm!”
“5 pm? But I… Never..How?…”
…and then realization dawned and Neil fell to the ground laughing. He rolled over on the grass and held his stomach.
Summer stood there, first with confusion, and as time passed and Neil would not stop, with more anger than she could imagine. Finally, she turned her back to him and began to walk away. She hadn’t walked ten steps ahead, when Neil came and stood before her, blocking her way.
And then donning a cheeky smile she had no idea he had, he told her, “OK, first of all, at 5 PM, I was in Virginia with my Grandfather…”
“How is that possible?! I saw you..you wore that shirt…”
“…and secondly, it was Pete you saw kissing Leila. Pete had borrowed my shirt on Friday morning because his had an ink spill on it. So there, I did NOT kiss Leila.” (then switching to a more teasing tone) “And even if I did Summer, why is it bothering you so much?”
Relief on Summer’s face gave way to utter fluster and a voice that had been animated and loud a minute ago, came out in no more than a squeaky whisper, “It isn’t bothering me. I was…just…”
“…pissed that I didn’t tell you?” Neil ended what she began.
And the cheeky smile playing at his lips and lighting up his eyes again, he said “OK, so you don’t care that I kissed Leila? Then I’m sure Mrs Wickham lied about you roaming around with a ‘Why am I depressed’ expression the whole week as well. And I’m sure that you’ve not had any trouble sleeping either, and the bit about you looking like someone died is all my imagination?”
Immediately running her hands over her hair, Summer fumbled “I…I…what do you mean Mrs. Wickham told you? When did she tell you!?”
“I didn’t know what to do Summer. I’ve been trying to talk to you all day today and I realized you were avoiding me like the plague. Then Kathy and Merle told me about the fiasco at the canteen. Then I ran into Leila and she told me about you thinking we kissed. I didn’t know what to do. I searched everywhere for you and I didn’t find you. So I went to your home and your mom told me you weren’t there. I met Mrs. Wickham outside and she told me all about your state. And I just knew you’d be here. So here I am…You want to tell me why my kissing Leila is bothering you so much?”
Half embarrassed, half blushing and really starting to feel flushed with all the surge of emotions, Summer turned and began to walk away in a fake huff. Backing him, she tried desperately to control the smile playing at her lips…He knew!
“I missed you too, you know? To the point of going ‘Why am I depressed?’ (and still Summer walked)
“Summer! Wait up! Like the poem on that page that I marked..22…?”
“22..!!” They both said at the same time.
“I marked it for a reason…(then running behind her) “Summer! God you’re fast! Will you slow down please? Fine. You want me to say it out loud?” (and the catching up going in vain)
“Summer! OK if that’s what you want…”
So Neil fished into his pockets and produced a paper with Robert Burn’s poem scribbled on it, then clearing his voice, he began in his deep baritone:
“O, my love is like a red, red rose,
That is newly sprung in June.
O, my love is like the melody,
That is sweetly played in tune.
As fair are you, my lovely lass,
So deep in love am I,
And I will love you still, my Dear,
Till all the seas go dry.
Till all the seas go dry, my Dear,
And the rocks melt with the sun!
O I will love you still, my Dear,
While the sands of life shall run.
And fare you well, my only Love,
And fare you well a while!
And I will come again, my Love,
Although it were ten thousand mile!“
When Neil finished the last line and looked up. Summer stood before him with a teasing smile.
“You are so dead! I’m telling everyone at school!“
“You wouldn’t do that.” and saying this Neil pulled her to him, hugged her tight and gently kissed her neck. Then said “Who would believe you anyway?”
Beaming like a thousand splendid suns, Summer hugged him tight. “You smell like honeysuckle Neil.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“And you smell like you’re about to turn 18…Shall we call Leila for the party then?”
“Leila?! and she punched him square in the stomach.
“Ow! What! We’ll call Pete too!”
….Nope. Summer does not ask ‘Why am I depressed?’, anymore.