Thirteen is, of course, the unluckiest number. It’s the number to which we have assigned our fears of imperfection, of evil, and even of death. Because of that, I can only write this post today. Forgive me my catharsis.
The day was January 13, 2019. The thirteenth day of the month, of the year, and exactly thirteen months before today. And, it must be said, this particular Sunday was very nearly the last day of my life.
But let me back up before I dive right in. I have made no secret of my depression. Like any, it waxes and wanes, following mental and emotional tides I do not fully understand. This condition is never crippling, to the point where I, for instance, spend days in bed, not eating or even moving unless I have no choice. Rather, it’s more like…a cloud that hangs over me at all times. A cloud that sometimes lifts a little, that the sun may shine upon me, but more often descends upon me, blocking and coloring my vision like a fog.
The beginning of last year was one of the latter occurrences, and the factors that contributed to this are many. The first serious relationship of my life had just failed, following an aborted attempt at restarting it around Christmas. My uncle had begun the slow decline that would lead to his passing (more on this later), and my mother had wholly given herself over to caring for him, at the cost of her sanity and that of her sons. My brother, fresh off a visit to the ER, was coughing and miserable in the next room. I had no money, no car, no real prospects, in my opinion. Nothing in my life, I felt, was going right at all.
Depression, I have learned, is entirely irrational. It defies logic, which places it beyond my comprehension. In this case, the tipping point was comparatively trivial. Water. That’s what it came down to.
I know that sounds silly, but hear me out. I live with my mom and stepdad, and we’re in a very rural area. So rural, in fact, that there was no municipal water system when the house was built, a mere 25 years ago. Thus, we have a well, complete with a set of pumps, pipes, filters, and the like. All wonderful and natural and organic…when it works. But those filters have to be changed. The pump sometimes quits working. These are regular events, except that they had become too regular due to a miscalculation when the well was expanded in 2013.
In short, we came home from the hospital (I’d gone with my mom and my brother) to a house without running water, a problem that couldn’t be fixed until the next day, at the earliest, and something about that just sent me over the edge. I’ll be the first to admit that the top half of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been absent for most of my life, but the bottom layer rarely gets disturbed. In this case, it did, and…that just seemed to sum up everything that was wrong. It was the icing on the cake, the straw that broke my back. If I can’t even control this, if I can’t fix this, what hope do I have for anything else in life?
Like my depression, I’ve been very open about the way music affects me. Emotionally, mentally, psychologically, music has a profound effect on me. It moves me in a way that few other things in life can. When I’m at my lowest, listening to music is one of the few ways I can feel. When I’m feeling better, I want to enjoy the beats, the melodies, the lyrics that speak to my soul.
For a long time, I’ve been attracted to concept albums, because I love stories. I always have. And a concept album tells a story in a way that the more popular jumble of songs just can’t match. That longing for storytelling has taken me into many different genres and subgenres, and I’ve become especially fond of rock and metal operas. But the musical creation that impacts today’s tale was simpler, though no less profound, concept album.
The band is Borealis, a Canadian progressive/power metal act with heavy symphonic elements. In other words, exactly the kind of music that catches my ear. In fact, the Wikipedia page for the band used to have a quote from the frontman, who named as his inspirations Century Child by Nightwish and The Inner Circle by Evergrey. As those are two of my favorite metal albums of all time, I was predisposed to liking these guys from the start. And then I listened to their album Purgatory. Really listened to it.
It’s a concept album, and the concept is as dark as it is powerful. (I don’t know if I’m getting it completely right, so consider this my interpretation.) After the death of his mother, a child chooses to take his own life rather than live with the abusive father who blames him for the event. He justifies this by thinking that, well, at least he’ll be reunited with his mother in the end. But after the attempt, he finds himself in purgatory, a “place of darkness” where he is lost and beset by nightmares. His father, realizing what has happened, begs, even prays, for him to return, apologizing for the way he has treated him. The child, meanwhile, meets an apparition—his mother—who promises to guide him back to life, to always watch over him. With that newfound hope, he’s able to find his way, to return to the land of the living.
I can’t say that I’ve been through the same sort of trauma, but this is a story that strikes straight to my heart. It did the first time I listened to it, and I’ve probably given it about 30 replays since then. Every one still leaves me thinking, because it’s just so beautifully executed.
Thirteen months ago, as darkness gathered in both the sky and my heart, I listened to Purgatory and focused on the words. And I felt them speaking to me in a way I hadn’t before. I could sympathize with the boy, because I’ve been blamed by my father for things I couldn’t control. Although my mother remains alive, thankfully, I had lost her to the obsessive care she gave first to her own parents, then to her brother. On this day, I felt I was alone. Nobody was there for me. Nobody would be.
I have joked about suicide in the past. I have contemplated it. But that night was the first time I ever planned it. I knew where my brother had a gun. It wouldn’t take much to go in there, get it, and do what had to be done. It wasn’t about ending suffering or anything like that; no, my only justification was that I wasn’t helping anyone by being here, and thus (here is where the irrationality of depression came in) I was only hurting them, so why even bother?
“My Peace” was where I decided I would do it. The sixth track is the moment the protagonist makes his fatal choice, and the lyrics of the bridge section were an apt summary of my life at that moment:
Robbed of ambition,
I’m drowning in my life;
No stars tonight,
An instrumental section follows that declaration, including a fairly good solo, but next is a spoken-word interlude, something I truly love in music like this. For this particular song, it’s a young boy giving a voice-over. (Nightwish’s “Dead Boy’s Poem” has something similar, and I can’t help but think “My Peace” is an homage.) The child is giving his reasons for taking his drastic final step, and they became, in my mind, the perfect last words.
“I can no longer see a reason to continue on this broken path,” he says. “I have taken from, day after day; it has left me with nothing left to give. I do not hate you. I feel sorry at what you have become, and what you have turned me into. I hope for you this place I go is forgiving, and we can be as we once were. This world has lost its light. I’m sorry.”
Everything I wanted to say, everything I felt needed to be said, summed up in twenty seconds by a boy less than half my age.
That track marks the halfway point of the album, and I spent the next five songs mindlessly playing a game on my phone while my rational side warred with the emotional part, fighting a vain struggle to remind me that this was the wrong way to go about it, that I still had something to live for. I know, and I knew, that there was. But in my depression, I just couldn’t find it. I couldn’t find a purpose, a path, a reason to keep on going.
Until the end.
Purgatory closes out with “Revelation” and a glimmer of hope. It’s far more upbeat than most of the tracks preceding it, and you can hear from the start that it strikes a more positive tone. All is not lost, it says to both its young victim and the listener, and…that was precisely what I needed to hear. The refrain, like so many other parts of the album, spoke to me:
Take my hand, hold it forever,
Guide my soul to freedom
Give me hope, change my life
I’ve found my way home
Never in my 36 years have I heard more fitting words. Never have I known a time where I felt something so strongly. I’m not ashamed to say that I burst into tears as my rational side, with this timely aid, finally won out over depression. My mom found me like that a few minutes later. She listened, something she had done very rarely in the preceding months. As we were talking, the power went out—we soon learned that this was because of my stepdad’s attempts at fixing the well pump. But now thoughts of ending it all were gone. Though darkness had come to the whole house, it was receding from my mind, and I felt like living again.
My uncle officially passed away on the 13th of January this year, marking exactly one year since the day I almost did. I think I’m through the worst of the grieving from that, though my mom still refuses to let go as of this writing.
The darkness did come back around a few times. I know it’s not gone for good. Bad things happen, and they really do seem to outnumber the good in my life most of the time. I write to cope, as I’ve said before. I escape to the worlds I create because I get tired of the one I live in.
But some things have changed in the months since my darkest day. I’ve made a few friends, or at least I like to think that they consider me such. I’m a member of an online community where people are, by and large, willing to share and listen. And even some members of my family are beginning to accept that this is who I am, although too many of them still ask, “What do you have to be depressed about?”
Most importantly, I know now that I’m not alone, because I have someone who, as that song says, gave me hope and changed my life. Someone whose very existence proves that this world has not lost its light. I just hadn’t found it yet, that’s all.
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, a time for lovers to be together. It tears me up inside to know that circumstances prevent me from being with my light, my Muse, on such a special day. But this is the first February where I have the chance to even worry about that. This is the first year where I love and am loved, in the romantic way the holiday intends.
It’s a little thing, maybe, but those little things are what make life worth living.