I was puzzled the first time I heard someone mention a recovery from depression. It may have been in Andrew Solomon’s book, “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.” I had no idea that people recovered from such a thing. I just thought it was a lifelong curse. Like so many people's, mine started in my twenties. It would complicate everything for the next 25 years.
I spent two years in my early twenties trying to make a life for myself in Sacramento, California. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I left and never returned there – until today, a few days before my fiftieth birthday.
Today I sat with my 3-year-old son on the patio at a coffeehouse where I used to write depressing poetry and ponder the meaning of life. I clocked a lot of hours there, even before I moved into an apartment around the corner. This was my neighborhood and the place where I wondered silently what would become of me.
For me, a gay young man in a world where gay young men were not the norm, it remained to be seen what path my life would take. At times, it didn’t look good. Most times. It was in this town that my depression began. It was in this town where I got fired from my job. It was in this town that I attempted suicide. But, it was also here where I began adulthood in earnest.
Today my son sat in the sun at a table on that same coffeehouse patio, drinking lemonade and eating what might qualify as the world’s biggest oatmeal cookie. I watched him and thanked my lucky stars. He is chatty, clever and inquisitive. I am fortunate to have him and a husband who loves us both with all his heart. I am fortunate to have survived and, at times, thrived.
Sons and spouses were not things we talked about, or things we expected to have, back when I was young. I came out in the late 1980s, the Reagan Years. It was when the AIDS pandemic reared its ugly head. Marriage equality and adoption rights were hardly mentioned. My dreams then involved staying alive. My goal was to avoid becoming a statistic.
I moved from Santa Barbara to Sacramento in the early 1990s. My older brother had moved there years earlier and was doing well. He got married, bought a house and had a baby. These were things young people couldn’t afford to do in the touristy coastal town where we grew up. I moved to Sacramento because it seemed like a town I could manage. I had outgrown our sleepy town, but was in no way ready for the big city.
I lived with my brother and his young family for the longest time. If you want to know how long it was, just ask him. That’s how long it was. To say that I failed to launch in my new town is probably accurate. Eventually, my brother expedited things by finding an apartment for me and, in doing so, telling me that it was time to get on with it.
I enjoyed living downtown. I was within walking distance to all the important things, including a small nightclub that became my hangout on most weekends. I began to date. I dated with reckless abandon, and was happy to be getting the attention. It was new to me.
In nights on the town, with the help of alcohol, attractive (and some merely adequate) men, I constructed a method of alleviating my depression. A few days every week I managed to get out, dance, drink and launch awkward attempts at making friends. I must have seemed maladjusted and introverted to the average Joe. I was a loner, but preferred it that way.
In my hometown, there was a different vibe. Southern California held a higher bar and I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, compete. In Sacramento, people were friendly and didn’t mind that I often stood by myself until I was approached. I was distant, but perfectly willing to ditch that when someone wanted to talk. The dating helped my self-esteem, while the depression didn’t. I could have built something there, if not for the depression. Success would have to wait.
I don’t know why I look back fondly on my life in Sacramento. It was really quite a mess. But it was my first time living on my own, making my own way, and it was my mess. By then my escalating depression had made it all impossible. I eventually returned to Santa Barbara and began therapy. I was happy to be home, where I knew how to get around and had close friends.
I don’t often talk of these things. Coming back to this town forced the issue.
The coffeehouse has changed owners and altered its name, but it was quite similar considering all the years that have passed. The neighborhood even seemed the same; although this time I arrived in a rented minivan and had to fight for parking.
As the manager buzzed around helping customers and tidying tables, I was tempted to tell him my story. I was tempted to tell him that I used to love sitting here on rainy days and that I wrote prolifically while purchasing the least amount of coffee possible. I wanted to tell him that I was back, 25 years later, to take a victory lap of sorts. Instead, I guided my son outside and we basked in the sunlight, eating large cookies and sipping lemonade.
To read more blog posts by Casey Cavalier, visit his site Papa Says So.