Getting Better

Coming back to gardening—and mothering.

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I had the Zoloft. I needed to take it. But I was just standing in my kitchen, staring out the back door at my garden—looking at it but not really seeing it. How could this pill be strong enough to pull me out of this hole I couldn’t get out of on my own? This tiny pill, I thought, was stronger than I was.

I wanted to take it. But I also hated to take it and admit I had a problem that I couldn’t fix on my own. Taking the pills could save me; I wanted them to save me. But at the same time, it would mean admitting, finally, completely, that I needed them to be myself. To be who I used to be, if I could even be that person anymore. A person who got dressed, and worked in the yard, and looked forward to spring and planting seeds.

I looked at him in astonishment. I felt like I hadn’t seen him in a long time.

Following my nurse Lynn’s carefully written instructions, I positioned one small pill on a paper towel, then found my tiniest, sharpest knife and quartered the pill, sending some dust specks falling. I held one quarter in my palm, barely able to feel it. It was about the size of a single Nerd candy. I put it on my tongue, and sipped some juice—I couldn’t even tell if I’d swallowed it. I stood in my kitchen, listening to my son Henry drink his own juice in the high chair, watching me and kicking his feet. I didn’t want to move just yet. Stupidly, I waited for something to happen. I knew it would take a couple of weeks to feel any effects. I knew this dosage probably wouldn’t even do anything.

Henry knocked over his juice and started crying. I got a dish towel and went over to sop it up. He flipped his spoon out of his mashed sweet potatoes, sending them flying onto the floor, the walls, and me. I looked at myself, at the whole situation, and wanted to cry. They weren’t working yet; they weren’t going to cure me today. This was another day I wouldn’t be going outside.

I took my carefully quartered pills for eight days with no effects—bad or good. Every morning I thought, Maybe today will be the day it will all change. The day that I will change. But I didn’t feel better. Then I noticed I was able to take a shower a couple of days in a row and even get dressed. Was it working? While I wanted to be skeptical and not get suckered into some placebo effect, I was feeling better. And when I could be with my son and not feel utterly exhausted or angry or sad, I didn’t care if this was a placebo effect or not. I just cared that I was starting to feel better. By now I was taking one whole pill a day.

Then one morning, I woke up and thought that it looked like a nice day outside. Maybe Henry and I would go in our little backyard and look around at our plants. We hadn’t been out there in so long. I wandered over to the window at the back door—and it was like I was looking at someone else’s yard. The patio we’d built had weeds taller than Henry growing up through every space between the paver stones. The plants I’d collected over the years looked dry and dead, even though it was spring.

How had this happened so fast? I thought. And then it hit me: It hadn’t happened fast at all. The weeds had been slowly growing since the summer. My plants had been dying since the summer. For eight months. I’d hardly looked at them.

I scooped up Henry, both of us in our pajamas. Henry giggled on my lap, and I actually giggled back at him, grinning at his smile, at his gums and his two perfect little white teeth. I looked at him in astonishment. I felt like I hadn’t seen him in a long time.

“Where have you been?” I said. He blinked at me.

“Mom-om-om,” he said. “Mom” had been his first word, a couple of months ago. I had felt unworthy then.

“Yes, I’m your Mom-om-om.” I bounced him. I saw him, like I saw my plants. He was a baby, but almost not. He had a full head of blonde hair now and it was getting long. He was chewing with his sharp little teeth and his hard gums. I could see him.

That’s when I knew I was getting better. I could see him and the plants and the weeds and the sunny day outside. I saw my pajamas, not matching, but also not what I would be wearing all day anymore, either. I realized that each day that week, I’d been having longer “good” times. Today, maybe the good times would even be longer than the bad times.

We went out to water plants. I cared about my poor, neglected plants and my poor, unseen baby and my sad attempts at mother-hood. I wanted to dig up dead things and pull old weeds and plant new seeds. I wanted to start everything over again. And even if it was just pulling weeds, I hadn’t wanted to do much of anything in a long time. Starting with the weeds was just fine with me.

Henry and I both couldn’t wait to get our hands dirty.

This article was published originally in 2015, in GreenPrints Issue #101.


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