On that mild December afternoon, when I finally realized that I had been wearing my winter jacket around my house for most of the day, I felt silly. At first, I didn’t know why I had done it, and I wanted to believe that my oversight was just an insignificant lapse in judgment—something I could blame on sleep deprivation or absentmindedness. But then, I thought of the bandages on my shoes.
When I was a little girl, I would sometimes insist that my shoe needed a band-aid. I didn’t need the adhesive strips to patch worn-out spots in the leather or to cover unsightly scuff marks. On the surface, my patent-leather Mary Janes were clean and intact. Even so, one of my babysitters was often kind enough to respond to my requests by tenderly applying a bandage to the front of my shoe.
I think I chose my shoe instead of my elbow or my knee as the site of this special kind of first aid because I did not want to pretend that I had cuts or scrapes on my body. In fact, pretending was precisely, what I wanted to avoid. In bandaging a portion of my shoe, I was not trying to conceal damage; I was hoping to expose it. A two-and-a-half inch piece of pink plastic on a tiny black leather shoe should have been hard to ignore.
I don’t wear band-aids on my shoes anymore. Sometimes, though, I still wish I could slap a boo-boo sticker on my shoe—or my hand or my heart—with the hope of alleviating a bit of the soreness. What’s more, my desire to transform my intangible, unutterable, and inexplicable feelings into physical objects or visible actions hasn’t gone away, either. Which is perhaps why I found myself wrapped up in a puffy parka inside my heated house.
I wasn’t cold; I was desperate. I wanted to escape, but I knew that there was no safe place for me to go.
What would you do if you were convinced that you could not possibly stay, and yet you also knew that you could not leave? If you needed to get away from now and this and here, but you were not allowed to break free, how would you respond? Sometimes, in my coat, “now” seems only temporary—like I’m on my way out of “here,” with no intention of continuing on with “this.”
Depression traps you in a world that no one else can see or hear or feel or know. In that place, there are no boundary lines to help you differentiate between reality and distortion, no clear sounds to lead you in the right direction, no landmarks with which to orient yourself, and no exit signs to show you the way out.
After a while, in a space like that, you become lost and virtually invisible, with barely a trace of yourself anywhere to be found. So, you try to locate shapes that you can vaguely identify. You work to catch the vibrations of the faint echoes in the distance, and you dream of the remote possibility of traveling beyond the confines of your very own fading nowhere.
My shoe band-aids did not permanently cure my pain, nor did they change the behavior of most of the adults in my life. When I wore my parka around my house, I didn’t escape from my nowhere-land. Still, those bandages and that coat were not entirely ineffective dressings or useless symbols. They made the nebulous concrete, the unspeakable audible, and the undesirable irrefutable.
I can remember the crisp sound of the band-aid’s thin paper package ripping open, and the antiseptic smell of the fresh plastic and gauze. I can picture those matte, flesh but-not-flesh-colored, elongated oval strips stuck on and protruding off of my small dark sparkly shoes. When I think about my inside-coat, I can recall the weight of the thick quilted fabric pressing against my skin, blanketing my back, and altering my arm movements.
I could see, hear, smell, and feel those things. I know they existed. For me, those shoe-bandaids were like shiny fragments of reality sticking out from the buried denials. That coat was like a shimmering streak of honesty in the rapidly descending darkness.