The first time I saw it, I was giving birth to my son in the hospital bed, antiseptic smell clogging my lungs and my blood pressure skyrocketing through the roof. Nobody said birth was easy and I could vouch for the fact that it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life, but the experience was made much stranger by its presence.
It stood in the corner of the room howling and wriggling, only present as I was already screaming and asking my husband how our baby boy looked from the other end as he made his way into the world. I probably looked pretty shocked, staring off into the corner wide-eyed, wondering what hallucinations my mind had conjured through the birth process to have to see something so horrible. It took me a whole day of rationalizing and holding my son to my chest, never letting go, to realize that my mind had probably made up the shadow thing in entirety.
He was a prodigy – maybe not to others, maybe they couldn’t see what I saw, but I saw him as nothing but. Not only was he a handsome child with an imagination that could stop anyone in their tracks, but his intelligence flowed from him like an electric current, shocking those he came into contact with, making them want to do better, to be better. I was luckily the victim of his imaginative and intelligent qualities and I caught on quickly to the fact that he wasn’t like all the other children. I sat and watched him from afar at the playground, becoming a leader of the pack, memorizing all he picked up in front of him and relaying it to me later. We had a prodigy; yes, that’s what he was. He was everything I had wanted him to be with a touch more that I had never even asked for nor expected.
From time to time again, I thought I saw it again. I woke up in a haze one night, 3 in the morning, and turned to my husband who was fast asleep in bed beside me. I was about to ask him, “Did you hear that?” referring to the low, growling voice I swore had woken me up in the first place. But, without even asking, I trekked out of bed and grabbed my baseball bat and started down the hall toward our son’s room. Before I even got to the end of the hallway, I saw it there, less than four feet in front of me. It had paused mid-step and had its hand on his door. It very, very slowly pulled the door shut, never taking its gaze from me. I couldn’t see its eyes but something about it was very dark and I knew in that short distance of four feet, it was staring at me. And then the shadow, barely visible from the start, snaked up the wall and disappeared somewhere in the creases of the wall.
I burst into our son’s room to find him shivering and crying. I asked him what had happened, had it been another nightmare? Did he want to climb into bed with us? What could I do to make things all right?
He stared at me for a few months, as if rationalizing with himself and whatever had just happened and said, “I’m just really sad, Mommy.” I never did really understand the conversation until a few years later, but at the time in my mind I wrote it off as just that – a bad dream, one that all kids had. Maybe I thought he was a prodigy and above certain things that other kids went through, but he still had nightmares. He still faced demons we all faced, right?
Preschool came and went, kindergarten came and went, first grade, second grade, third, fourth, fifth, sixth…they all came and went. Seventh grade arrived and my prodigy, my little round-faced, lovely boy with the bright eyes came home from school each day and went into his bedroom to listen to music without so much as a, “Hey, mom!” Some days were better than others and I didn’t feel like I lost a thing – he was doing so well in all aspects of his life and his father and I constantly showed him how much he meant to us and what he was worth, which was everything.
One day, he came home from school and locked himself into his bedroom, music blaring. I marched up the steps to tell him to turn it down and received no answer as I tried to knock on his door and twist the doorknob. Erratically, I began screaming, knowing something was wrong. “Baby, are you okay?! What’s going on in there? You need to turn the music down!”
“I just had a rough day,” he replied as if it was the most normal thing in the world for him. Just as I was about to reply, I caught a glimpse over his shoulder at the black, shadowy mass billowing in the corner. I dropped the plate in my hands on the floor and my jaw dropped and nearly shattered along with it. My son’s entire demeanor changed to one of fear, as he backed out into the hallway with me and twisted around to see what had spooked me to my core. Just as he turned around, the mass dissipated into thin air.
“What was it saying to you?!” I demanded, shaking him by the shoulders, suddenly unaware of my own strength and the fear I was instilling in him.
“Mom, wh-what are you talking about?” my son stammered back to me with a fear in his eyes unlike I had ever seen before. “Wh-who?”
Oh my God, you can’t see it?! I wanted to scream. I’ve seen it with my own eyes! Am I going insane? But instead, my son’s fear got the best of me and I just said, “If you ever have to talk to me, you know I’m here.” Which, in retrospect, may have scared him a little more. Talking to Mom wasn’t something we did much in these parts anymore and he worried when I had concerns. This was concerning enough, I was sure.
Months went by and things showed very little improvement, but some days were better than others. My son made an amazing group of friends who stuck by him through thick and thin and may have saved him from more than I was ever able to understand. My life progressed in some ways and lacked in others; for instance, our communication was broken in most ways to me, but in other ways, I felt like he was excelling in specific aspects of his life. In other words, I simply left him be. And that was mostly that.
And then our son was in his twenties, right before our very eyes. Yes, it goes by that quickly. People may tell you that parenthood was one of the most rewarding, intense times of their lives – but pretty soon the intensity wears off because it is so easily forgotten when you love your children, and you’re merely left with the rewards. The rewards of seeing who you raised, for who they are.
My son, the prodigy, was more invested in his music than ever. He was damn near a rising professional skateboarder and interested in exploring the outdoors with friends. Meanwhile, I lived my life with my husband and we looked onto him with pride in our eyes, never allowing it to falter once.
But things were changing again. One evening my husband and I had just finished eating supper and I was walking upstairs to get ready for bed, when I swore I heard whispering coming from my son’s room. I halted at the top of the stairs and strained to hear what was being said, but couldn’t quite make out the words spoken by the second person. Instead of my typical approach of asking him who he was talking to or if he was okay as I usually did, I started to tiptoe down the hall, into the darkness I had become so afraid of over the years. It was unusually dark in the hall… wasn’t it? Something felt off. The whispering continued and I lingered on.
“No, you just have to leave me alone. They wouldn’t be proud of me anymore. Sometimes I already feel like they all gave up on me, it’s how they look at me. Like I’m a lost, poor soul.” It was my son’s voice. I bit my tongue and placed my hand over my mouth. Is this how he really felt? Who was he talking to?
Just as I was about to make up some damn excuse and plow into his bedroom, I heard the voice whisper back, “Shut the fuck up. She’s right outside the door.”
I burst through on command.
Nobody was in his room and he was staring wide-eyed at me now as if I had committed murder. “What’s wrong, Mom?”
“Who was he? Who was making you feel that way? Saying horrible things to you?” Tears had started to fall from my eyes immediately before I even had a chance to think, and my son was gathering me in a hug.
“What are you talking about?” he asked. “There’s nobody, Mom.” He was lying to me. He gritted his teeth and held onto me like he was never going to let go. “I swear to you, I’m fine.”
A week later my son was found. He had committed suicide.
“You say after his death, the darkness never left the house? That darkness you spoke about, the one like a shadow?” The therapist stared me straight in the eye, his one eyebrow raised in a fashion that says, I follow you, yet I don’t think anything could get me to completely understand the way you do. And part of me didn’t want anybody to understand – not me, not him, not my husband. None of us could understand my son or the things he did like he could understand. Nobody knew what he went through. All people suffer differently.
“I know it sounds… insane,” I started, but he raised a hand and stopped me.
“Not insane. We don’t call things insane. We just try to understand them.”
“Well,” I continued, “I’m not so sure that’s possible. I remember the first time I saw it when I was giving birth. I knew right then and there it couldn’t have been a hallucination, or just a trick of the mind. I knew it was something evil that was going to follow us like a plague. I just wish I knew what it was.”
“Seeing what?” I begged now, pleaded, with my eyes and my soul.
“The thing that followed your son all those years. It picked him from birth. And why, we will never understand. Currently, there are an outstanding number of people who suffer from its grasp.”
I just shook my head and turned away in dismay, not understanding fully what he was reading to me, as if it were on a script. “How many people suffer from it?”
“Well…” he drifted off, then caught himself, “On a global level, 350 million people currently, if not more.”
“What kind of evil could cause something like this?” I asked, now leaning across the desk and grabbing a chunk of my therapist’s shirt in my hands. “What monster could have caused this? Could have taken the best thing in the world to me?” By now, tears were streaming down my face, waiting for the inevitable. “What was that thing?”
And then my therapist looked me in the eyes and told me the words I would never forget.
“It goes by many names, but mostly everybody knows it as what it is. Depression.” And before I could say another word, he whispered, “And you have to be very careful with it. Because I know why the darkness has never left your home, or left anywhere you go. It has been following you as well.”