Seasonal Affective Disorder

I was hiding out in the White Mountains of New Hampshire this week, trying to get my mind right.

It is rainy and cool in New England, third week of May.  It’s Teen Death Season.  Classes are ending, exams starting, proms and end of season sports parties.  Late nights, alcohol, drugs and motor vehicles.

Two high school students died in recent weeks in Northwest Vermont, both in vehicle crashes.  Both deaths tore at communities, also networks.  My daughter knew neither boy who died, but in one case knew someone who knew someone.  The vibration moves along the strands.

The end of school, an annual rite of liberation, a time to test and cross new limits.  Closer to home is the recent arrest of a teacher at Burlington High School, charged with having sex with a student.  That the teacher is female and the student male, I think, adds a layer of confusion for teens just sorting their own sexual roles while caught between small town mores and provocative media, especially social media.

When I was a reporter, if police attended a death I tried to as well.  Teen Death Season was the name we gave these weeks. Those deaths always seemed to involve a ditch, tree or other vehicle.  They always seemed to happen just before dawn or just before dusk.  Before dawn, it was just first responders.  At dusk, there were spectators, which would cause the first responders (and me) to laugh.  No spectators, no laughing, but their presence, knowing we were being watched, heightened the sense –at least for me- that I was participating in an obscenity, so we laughed because overwhelming emotion needed release and laughter was the only means available while we did what we had to.  What I did was watch, taking notes and photos.  It didn’t take long, but I’d stay until it was wrapped up because, well, something might happen and I was there to watch.

Spectators would approach and I’d tell what I could, a first draft of my next day’s story.  When I crossed to their side of the yellow tape, I stopped laughing.  Then I’d be like them, caught somewhere between horror and reverence.  Back at the office I’d recreate the scene in dry prose.  Small town journalism.  I didn’t write half of what I saw or knew.

This year, Burlington High School is offering Year End Semester, short intensive courses in electivesque topics.   (“Offering” isn’t exact.  It’s required but there are many choices.)

My daughter is taking Creative Writing.  Canning was oversubscribed.  (“I just want to make pickles.  Is that so terrible?”)  I can’t evaluate her preservative capacity, but she’s a talented storyteller (which has its down sides for parents).  I’m glad BHS is trying this, bringing the school year in for a landing, instead of that deep-end dive.

An old friend and I traded stories by email this week, each was our version of the same story, versions we’ve told before, but with new details and insights.  It was raining the night I typed my mail; window open to the same cool air that woke me the morning we learned we’d lost a friend to her own hand days before graduation.

This is my seasonal affective disorder, some years worse than others, this year knocking the wind out of me as I pray for this angel to pass over.  There are consolations.  Memories that rise now tend to be of better, sweeter moments.  I only now recognize acts of kindness performed 34 years ago.

My friend’s name was Margaret.  She took an overdose in a city park near my house.  I heard shouting voices through the rain when I woke that morning.  I didn’t know why at the time, later I figured it was her father, who’d been looking for her.  Now I realize it was probably the cops and EMTs.  It’s OK if they laughed.  I understand.

© Mark Floegel 2013

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