Reina the Brave
You can’t always put on a brave face. Depression is a very real disease that can sometimes be deadly. You don’t have to go it alone, though: Call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and information.
He called me to come downstairs; he was outside waiting for me. My big sunglasses hid my red eyes as I walked slowly down the stairs, trying to shake off the dust and find my inner brave self so he wouldn’t worry about me.
I sat in the car and looked at the man in the passenger’s seat. He used to have black hair and a mustache, his face a little less worn. Now my father was white with wrinkles from the worry of the past six months. He looked at me and spoke to me softly as he always had in the moments where I was weak. And I cried, the tears slipping past the armor I had placed on my face to hide.
I couldn’t fight anymore, I cried to him. I had been lying in bed for days, refusing to talk to concerned friends and hiding behind masks when I went out. He touched my hair softly as he drove down Venice Boulevard to my favorite coffee shop.
“Don’t cry,” he said, but then stopped himself. Time had taught him better. “Or let it out, if you have to.”
This was the man who would sit with my sister and me on the couch as a child, watching The Secret of NiMH. He would tell us to always be brave, like the little mouse Mrs. Brisby protecting her home. Courage was vital when facing a harsh world. I didn’t know then these words were meant for everyone in the household, including himself.
As I got older, the more I discovered that the world was a very difficult place indeed. When I left Israel at 17, I found out later my dad was offered the choice to come and get me so I could spend a couple of extra days in the country. He said no, probably on account of the expense, but it taught me that many of my battles have to be faced alone. There would be plenty of frightening days where that one came from, from the dog days of divorce to the rebuilding of my life, and most of them would be solitary wars that only I could fight. Although people would give me weapons to fight them with, no one can protect you from them. And for me, the most essential tool because my game face, which my father always used the business cliche, “Never let them see you sweat.”
The Halloween after my divorce, I slipped on a red corset, blue short shorts and a gold tiara, proclaiming myself Wonder Woman. It’s a costume that has gone down in legend amongst my friends; a friend of mine said he referred to me as Wonder Woman for six months before he actually knew my name. It was my game face for my new world post-married life, my Mrs. Brisby costume if she were a superhero. And for quite a few people, I sometimes stand in for one.
On the surface, I’m brave. Everyone knows me as the shoulder to cry on, the joke teller, the girl who has fought for everyone else. Sure, I’m not 100 percent brave (ask any girl who has quizzed me as to why I can’t ask a guy out to save my life), but I’ve been pretty damn close. I’m not afraid to walk into any room by myself and have complete confidence in approaching almost anyone. Any personal struggles were mine alone, kept hidden in dark corners but once conquered brought out as if they were no big deal.
Yet I was weak now; I had fought to two and a half years to get my life on track, and the moments where I’d think everything was back to normal, it wasn’t. Whether it was my ailing mother or the struggles to keep myself afloat, there was always another obstacle to overcome, and I was getting tired. Stressed and worn away, depression was coming to infect me like a disease. Often I would say that I was stronger than it, fighting despite the walls crumbling around me. But sometimes you need a break, and there wasn’t one.
Now I sat with my dad in my favorite coffee shop, and the caffeine in my pour-over was the only thing breaking down the wall of depression that separated my father from me. His voice calmed me, and then we started talking about the things we always used to talk about. The power of storytelling and music. The creative powers and how they are given to us. The future of our lives as father and daughter against a harsh world. Basically, important conversations we weren’t able to have for at least six months. Life had blocked us from our natural state, and circumstances being what they were, freaking out was hardly an option.
As we confronted each other, we still somehow found comfort in one another. No matter the sins of what had happened over this time, he was still a man I loved and one of the most important people in my life. Meanwhile, I was still the young woman who he admired for her ferocity and spirit, yet now was weak from depression, a demon he knew all too well. Having seen me for so long, he knew exactly what to do: Pick me up to wash my face and remind me to breathe — possibly the most courageous thing to do when you feel like you’re weak. And then from there, small steps onward.
As he dropped me off at home and hugged me tight, I walked up the stairs of the apartment, unsure of my next move. I was alone again, yet strangely I wasn’t. And perhaps because I was so used to fighting my battles alone, the idea that I would have to face this one by myself was taken without a second thought. But sometimes bravery isn’t all about the game face; it’s knowing when you can’t fight alone. And it’s not necessarily about winning the battle, but walking out the front door.