In 1994 my parents separated. A year later, after a considerably bluesy period, my mom spent some time in the psychiatric wing of North Shore Hospital. My Dad said she was tired and needed some rest. But I knew it was more than that. Her life had exhausted her and she wasn't sure she wanted to be here anymore.
I'm not sure what triggered the idea, but a few months later she decided to call William Styron at his Martha's Vineyard home. At the time, the Vineyard was the only place where famous people still had listed numbers and finding it was as easy as dialing the operator. She left a message on his machine, knowing that it was off season and he would most likely never hear it and, if he did, never return it. But she spoke into the recording just the same, told him that she had been feeling helpless but that his work in Darkness Visible left her with some hope. That the past few months had been a struggle but she was trying to find her way out. When she hung up I told her that if he ever heard it he was going to think she was a crazy person. And then we laughed, because wasn't she just a little.
An hour later the phone rang and I answered. The voice on the other end asked for Laura and when I asked who was calling, William Styron told me that he and his wife Rose would like to speak to my mom. I ran upstairs, found her marking papers in bed, and whispered his name to her. She asked me what she should say and I nervously shoved the phone into her hand.
She called him Mr. Styron. He told her to call him William. He said that his daughter had called him at their home in Connecticut to relay the message from the Vineyard of a woman who sounded like she needed him. And then he told my mom that she shouldn't give up. She had heard this before but she listened because this was Stryon, an author, a writer, he had suffered too, and she respected him for all of it. She thanked him for his work and asked him if it ever got easier. They talked for an hour and I sat curled beside her on the bed in quiet thanks for the man on the other end of the line.
The bluesy times came and went and come and go still, but seventeen years later there is hope that it gets easier. And I can't help but think that it springs from that afternoon, from that call, from his words:
“For those who have dwelt in depression’s dark wood, and known its inexplicable agony, their return from the abyss is not unlike the ascent of the poet, trudging upward and upward out of hell’s black depths and at last emerging into what he saw as ‘the shining world.’ There, whoever has been restored to health has almost always been restored to the capacity for serenity and joy, and this may be indemnity enough for having endured the despair beyond despair.”