I woke up depressed. Waking up with depression is like waking up filthy dirty, but it’s not cured with a bar of soap and a long shower. Depression clings on like a withered snakeskin and I needed to shed this filthy putrid skin before it suffocated me to death. But here’s the rub, depression doesn’t want to peel off its host. It wants to hang on grimly and putrefy slowly making everything smelly and ugly. No few hours of Pythonesque struggle will see a neat sleeve of skin discarded like a ghostly shell of you left hanging in a maudlin manner from the place where you were once imprisoned. No, it takes a shift and that shift comes in many forms and comes from endless sources. No vaccine or elixir wipes the scourge of depression. Yes, some pills allow some protection and they do sometimes cause a recession from depression. But like a bulletproof vest, they just save your vital organs; they do fuck all to save you from what are sometimes fatal wounds to your head.
I was sat on a bench in green parkland looking out over the Gold Coast slipway. The sky was cloudless, that glorious blue that is reserved for skies hovering over great seas. Beautiful yachts lay at anchor in front of me scattered across the seaway. Boats skipped back and forth and sea birds danced in the sky. It was a typical Queensland August day. Although seasonally thought of as winter the Gold Coast in Queensland lies on the cusp of sub-tropical and seasonal. So really it was just a cool dry-season day. To my English eyes, this could be easily passed off as a glorious English summer’s day. It was to most people a perfect day. This made me feel even worse and I just hated it even more than I did those ugly English wet mid-summer days of my youth. I made up my mind to walk the fifty metres back to the car and seek the refuge that being in the metallic skin gives you. It allows you to be apart from the outside, not alone but not a part of what is going on around you. I decided I would go and sit in my car and observe all this from a safe distance rather than be amid the happenings. Like a metallic womb, my car was to be my refuge and the beginning of my merciful end.
Before I could lurch to my feet I saw that my path to the car was barred by a scary looking tall Blackman pushing a wheelchair towards me. I told myself that he was probably just doing a lap of the park and would pass by my bench leaving my path to my car unencumbered. So I sat back down on the bench and waited for them to pass me by. They were about thirty metres from me and dawdling. Although they were talking with one another I couldn’t hear what they were saying because of a Jet Ski. I hate Jet Skis, they are the seas version of a Sunday Morning Harley Davidson passing the café where you are trying to have a quiet coffee. I once asked a leather-clad bunch of fifty-year-old wannabe Hells Angels that if riding noisy, smelly, fucking ugly, expensive heaps of shit was just compensation for a small penis and inadequate sex lives. They smiled at me neither apologetically or admitting to me or anyone else the truth of their escapes. Like Lycra clad old men on carbon fibre cycles they knew that death was stalking them and no amount of sweat and leather was going to save them. I also once got myself in a lot of trouble with the police because of Jet skis. I wrote to my local politician suggesting that he introduce a shooting license allowing us to shoot two jet skiers each Sunday morning between dawn and noon. The police didn’t think it was funny and after four hours of searching my house they left happy that I had no chance of taking advantage of the laws eventual inception.
The Jet Skier passed by all of the time going nowhere but doing so noisily. The Blackman pushing the wheelchair was now ten metres away from me. My attention passed to his passenger who was old and had obviously had a stroke. He was laughing with half his face while the other half was doing a passable impression of a hungry St Bernard dribbling spit. Then much to my angst the black man pulled up to the bench and sat at the opposite end to me while he retrieved wet-ones to mop up wet bits hanging from the old man’s face. I sat stoically looking ahead all the time hoping they didn’t start any social interaction with me. The old man jumped as if he had been plugged into the electricity. He attempted to lift his withered left arm and with his right arm swiped away the Blackmans attempt to mop up half a pint of spit. In an accent I couldn’t understand he managed to convey that just fifty metres out into the seaway was a pod of dolphins coming towards us. I stood up quickly, much too quickly, so that I could to make my escape to the safety of my car. The next thing I remember was the smiling Blackmans face looming over me. I straight away noticed that he had a horrific pink scar that stretched from above his right eye, from the right side of his temple across his forehead and disappeared from my view heading for his left ear. His black skin and the contrast of pink of the scar made it at close inspection look grotesquely beautiful.
“You fainted he said”.
There are a few seconds when you regain consciousness but before you achieve awareness. At that moment sometimes fear kicks in and your reactions are not justified. What I saw was a black scarred face with the blue sky behind it creating a rainbow halo around the head. My first thought was that I was being summoned into hell by one of satans angels. With all my might I swung my fist at my saviour. In my mind, I threw an uppercut that Mike Tyson would have been proud of. In reality, I was so weak it felt like I was punching underwater and my slow-motion uppercut dawdled past the Blackmans scarred ear. My saviour offered me water and propped my head up with a blanket. He popped the nipple on the water bottle. I sipped on a solution of what the nectar of the gods must taste like. It was just iced water with slices of lemon and lime in it, but I had never ever drunk anything as good before or even since.
Over the next what might have been 2 minutes but easily could have been 30 minutes I regained some semblance of normality. I think the words Sorry passed my lips maybe fifty times but were waved away more easily than my feeble uppercut. The man in the wheelchair was a Serbian Croatian refuge who had been in Australia since fleeing that conflict in the ’80s. He had gotten into Australia when it still readily welcomed people from across the world who were escaping conflict and adversity. Franjo was known as Joe to everyone. He had escaped the conflict because his father was a Croat and his mother was a Serb. When their village was stormed both his mother and father were killed principally because they were neither or either. His mother was in her late sixties but had still been raped and then killed and then sickeningly raped again. His Brother who found their bodies said that he had found his father’s body 200 metres from the farmhouse. It was apparent that he had been trying to escape. He had been shot so many times in the back, upper torso and head that it was only from his trousers that he could be identified. Franjo was working in the city when all this happened, that very night he fled by road into Austria and eventually Germany. Then from there to a cousin who lived in Queensland. Four years to the day of his arrival Franjo became an Australian citizen and right after the ceremony he had an Australian Flag and a Kangaroo tattooed on his now withered left arm. Franjo worked as an accountant and had retired four years ago. Only to cruelly suffer a huge stroke six months after retiring. Yet here he was in a wheelchair, watching dolphins, laughing and smiling.
His huge Blackman supporter had an even more remarkable story of escape. He was a Somali refugee, but again a victim of a conflict that had nothing to do with him and a victim who had also lost more than most. He had arrived in a refugee camp in Mogadishu as a young boy with a horrific head injury. More blood than a young body should hold was soaked into his once white tee-shirt and khaki shorts. Yet blood was still spurting, pulsing and seeping from the bandage around his head. Against the odds of a poorly equipped refugee field hospital by the hands of a very young doctor, a horse vet and a nurse who had first-hand learnt too much about trauma cases, he survived. Over a few days he had danced with death but eventually escaped his grasp. This young boy woke with a smile so big the nurses christened him Smiley. I could understand that name from my first true view of his face wearing a big smile.
Smiley knew almost no English. He couldn’t communicate directly with most people in the camp as he only spoke a Bantu dialect. The only English words he knew were those that had been drummed into his head by his father. His dad had told him that he was to repeat them to any white people he met. His one sentence was, “Uncle Sam Wants Me”. For two weeks whenever he came across a nurse, a soldier a doctor, anyone white he would repeat, “Uncle Sam Wants Me”. As the weeks turned into months he became known as Uncle Sam. His parents never turned up but that just made him one of the thousands of orphaned children. When Uncle Sam arrived at the Mogadishu refugee camp he had no paperwork and to get him adopted he very much needed some. So the Camp administrator made up some. Smiley became Uncle Sam Mogadishu born February 29th 1996. In the end, Uncle Sam didn’t want Uncle Sam, but a Dr from Queensland did. She and her partner wanted to adopt a child but one with less chance of being picked by others. Uncle Sam had a terrible facial scar so no placement agency had been able to find anyone in six years to take him. So, by the age of 10 Sam Mogadishu was a Queenslander. An unremarkable childhood delivered him into a career in social services and he had a natural affinity with refugees. A kinship that made him feel truly at home.
That day two refugees from different worlds stormed a foreign land and rescued me. I sat puzzled by their smiles and joy in a life that had been so much more brutal and distressing than mine. A life that had stolen futures and family from them; yet here they were in this strange land now more Australian than me. Looking out at a pod of dolphins with an unadulterated excitement, glee and joy that I could never find in a million pods of dolphins. But there we sat, A Somali, a Serb Croat and an Englishman in a foreign land. I felt defeated and somehow robbed by them. Beaten down and exposed as petty and ungrateful. But for the first time in a very long time, I didn’t feel depressed. I felt inadequate but I could see the potential. I would like to say I went away and joined a refugee support network, but I didn’t. I went back to my womb/car but importantly I threw away my escape capsule. Later that night the rubbish collectors found a bag containing a hosepipe, a bottle of vodka and a lot of sleeping pills. I found a new world where depression far less often lapped at the shore and when it did I went and watched dolphins and looked for refugees.
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I never thought about it like that but depression does feel heavier than the force of gravity. Very interesting story!
Thank you. Often struggle and writing helps me escape.
A very emotive story. Could very easily be true.
Not true but evolved from sitting on bench and observing the less fortunate achieving higher levels of apparent happiness.