A nonfiction essay about a depressed son’s diagnosis

April. Pink light falls through trees. Everything opening at the same time you are closing. We drive past strip malls, houses, through towns where everything moves, normal as water. You cry in the car. I keep giving you tissues. I tell you we are almost there. I don’t tell you how I wish you were here with me. I don’t tell you how I look at you and can’t find you anymore.

The doctor’s office is blurred with underwater tones, as if he fears edges. Fish flitter in a tank; the walls are pale green, the furniture is Pottery Barn shabby chic. All soft and muted. We waited three days to see him and got in only because it’s an emergency. “You’re very lucky,” his secretary tells me. “It’s usually a few weeks before you can get an appointment. This is very unusual.”

Yes, I want to say, because nothing has been unusual for us lately. She hands me a clipboard containing the Magna Carta.

I had to borrow $400. Embarrassed, but no choice. The doctor is young and listens to us explain.

“What do you think when you see a dead animal on the road?” he asks. He has a slight accent, as if the foreign is being trained out of him. My son shrugs.

I watch as the doctor types my son’s responses into his computer. Is this an Internet diagnosis? I think of those tests I took in middle school: Answer these questions, and you will discover what kind of flower matches your personality.

What the fuck? I want to shout this and shake the doctor. Dead animals? An online diagnostic? He can’t sleep; he has 40-minute panic attacks; and he can’t remember what day of the week it is without prompting. He was a former honors student, and we’re talking about roadkill?

Would you be showy, like a rose? Or shy, like an orchid? Daisies are genial . . .

The doctor types.

Outside, clouds move, struck by spring wind. My son watches, and I wonder if he is thinking about how he has stopped moving.

“Do you want to hurt anyone?” he asks.

My son looks at him for a long minute. “Sometimes.”

“All right then, now, the panic. How does that feel?”

My son tells him how he feels crushed. His eyes water. He can’t move or even sit up.

Then, a breakthrough: the doctor presses Enter.

We wait, smiling at each other. I think of Dorothy, moving the curtain and revealing the disappointment of that tiny little wizard.

“Here we go,” the doctor says. We have a diagnosis. He gives us a slow-eyed glance and says to my son, “You are depressed.”

“Right,” I say, “I know; he’s also male, but is it bipolarity? Unipolar? Can it be fixed?”

“Oh,” the doctor says. “We don’t know that until after adolescence. We can’t diagnose that. We’ll start conservatively, a low amount of Prozac, see if it helps. He won’t see results for at least three weeks.”

See if it helps. Three weeks.

He has no life right now, I remind the doctor. Is there anything else?

The doctor tells me it all takes time. Can I come back in three weeks?

It’s only $300 for the second visit. He smiles.

My son cries in the car on the way home. Darker pink light falls through trees. I give him tissues. It grows colder, so I stop to get his jacket from the trunk.

In that moment of unfolding the fabric, the scent of my son rises. I am transfixed, understanding that this is the way things will come to us both now: in silent, enveloping ways, as if we are living inside a slow explosion.

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